“Magnolia” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

With Melora Walters, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, John C. Reilly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, with Jason Robards and Julianne Moore, and Phillip Baker Hall

“As the good book says: we may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

Nothing is a matter of chance – there is no such thing as luck. Paul Thomas Anderson who is undoubtedly the most important filmmaker of our generation takes us through a journey of crisscrossing lives in LA. There are ten major characters that are all linked together through one man – Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) who is a big wig television producer who is dying. He produces a game show (name?) “What Do Kids Know?” hosted by Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall) who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Jimmy’s wife Rose (Melinda Dillon) is supportive of him, loves him but can’t help but wonder about why their daughter Claudia (Melora Waters) is addicted to drugs and refuses to see them. Claudia starts a strange and odd romance with a police officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly).

There is a young child prodigy on the game show, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman), who is a direct reflection of the child prodigy thirty years ago, “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith (who is played as an adult by William H. Macy). Earl Partridge’s caretaker is Phil Parma (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who takes care of Earl while his wife Linda (Julianne Moore) drinks and swallows prescription drugs. Earl’s last wish is for Phil to get a hold of Earl’s estranged son, the egotistical motivational speaker who teaches men to “Seduce and Destroy” women – Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise).

If you followed this so far, it just gets even more unbelievably complicated from here with secondary characters that branch from the main ones. Alfred Molina comes back from his second PTA outing as Solomon Solomon – one of two brothers who run an electronics store that employs Donnie Smith because Solomon feels sorry for him. Tarantino alum Michael Bowen plays the struggling actor who’s Stanley’s father who is using his kid for the money he’ll earn. Frequent PTA and David Mamet player Ricky Jay acts as narrator and as Burt Ramsey, the director of “What Do Kids Know?” Luis Guzman is back in his comedic relief form as an Adult on the game show panel playing against the Kids. Henry Gibson is a philosophical drunk man who drinks at the same bar Donnie Smith does – the two muse together in a hostile relationship. And of course – Robert Downey, Sr. shows up as an operator in the control room of “What Do Kids Know?” and Thomas Jane has a two second cameo as a young Jimmy Gator.

This film is built upon it’s screenplay like every other Anderson film (since I don’t care at all for “Punch Drunk Love” I don’t acknowledge it as a PTA film) – but a great screenplay isn’t enough for an Anderson film. The original music by Aimee Mann is unbelievable which adds to the authenticity and remarkable showing of this film. Her music was the central foundation of this film – her music inspired Anderson to create the character of Claudia, and all the other characters were branched off from her. His usages of two Supertramp songs are just perfect – he’s ranked with Scorsese and Zach Snyder for his usage of popular music in film.

This film deals with the universal feelings of the absorbent emotional pain of loneliness and abandonment. After the prologue of Ricky Jay narrating three random events that at a quick glance all seem like a matter of chance – they are anything but. The film opens with Aimee Man covering Three Dog Night’s “One” and we are hurried and rushed through quick chaotic character introductions. What this film leaves us with is the signature plethora of beautiful long shots that Anderson is so well known for.

But, what truly makes this film absolutely wonderful is the exceptional cast of actors that bare their souls to us.

Jason Robards as Earl Partridge: Robards is a wonderful actor who seems to go overlooked even though he won two back to back Best Supporting Actor Oscars. He is unbelievably wonderful in this film. He’s an old lonely man who is bitter and left rambling about life, about “the goddamn regret”.

Melora Waters as Claudia: In an odd way Claudia is the bedrock of this film. You can totally see how Anderson wrote her first and how the other characters branched from her. She gives a painfully heartbreaking performance in the film. She’s amazing and you can’t help but think that she’s the alter ego to Aimee Man.

Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey: In an already impressive career Tom Cruise is the one who steals this film with a career best performance. He will never, ever be able to top his performance in this film. His character is so filled with absolute bullshit he actually believes it. The scene he shares with Jason Robards is one of the finest moments in cinema history.

Phillip Baker Hall as Jimmy Gator: This is by far my favorite character from the film. He’s this well liked and very distinguished man, but on the inside he’s hollow and heinous. I remember being in High School and seeing this film, and seeing Phillip Baker Hall and was amazed at what a terrific actor he really is.

John C. Reilly as Officer Jim Kurring: I know I’ve said this before, and of course I’ll say it again: remember when John C. Reilly was a good actor?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Phil Parma: This was the first film when I realized what an awe inspiring actor Hoffman really is. He’s pathetic and weak in this film – but in a way he’s the bridge that closes a lot of gaps. While watching this film, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be his character with events that unfold.

William H. Macy as “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith: Wow. Remember when William H. Macy was a good actor?

Julianne Moore as Linda Partridge: It’s almost as if she’s plays the daughter of her “Boogie Nights” character. Moore is at her best when she’s selfish, an addict and fucking insane. People talk about how they can’t believe Leonardo DiCaprio hasn’t won an Oscar yet – fuck that – Julianne Moore should get a Lifetime Achievement Oscar now.


Jeremy Blackman as Stanley: Undoubtedly the weakest link in the cast – but he’s still pretty amazing for a child actor.

Melinda Dillon as Rose Gator: I’ve never felt so bad for someone in my entire life. Jesus…

There is a scene in this film that I had never, ever seen before. Most people give “Almost Famous” credit for a scene of this style. They are idiots. I can talk about this film for days. But I won’t – I’ll leave you with this:

Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

8 thoughts on ““Magnolia” – 1997. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson”

  1. I actually really like Punch Drunk Love. You should give it another shot. Daniel Day-Lewis cites that film as the one to interest him in working with Anderson. That guy knows a thing or two about movies…

  2. I would give Punch Drunk Love another chance as well. It’s a good movie, but nothing compared to Magnolia. Probably in my top three favorite films ever.

  3. Anderson’s obsession with Aimee Mann’s music pays off in this film. The mellow rock soundtrack was like an additional character.

  4. This film features not only one of my favorite soundtracks ever, but some of my favorite performances ever as well. It certainly highlights one of Tom Cruises best performances, and when isn’t Julianne Moore just perfect? I’ve watched this numerous times in the past, but haven’t recently. I think it’s time to go back a give it a visit. Excellent review.

  5. I hoped that it would make more sense to me as time went on (the frog scene) but I guess it’s just a case of life being stranger than fiction.

  6. I just about choked up during the Wise Up sequence…probably the one I felt the most sorry for, out of all of them (they were all pretty fucked up) was Stanley, just because, I don’t know, knowing he would become like Donnie eventually.

    This really is a great movie, I think. Technically excellent, too (I first heard of it in film class, where we had to disect the tracking shot in the studio).

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