Magnolia (1999) IMDb


Epic-length drama.


There are nine principal characters, all living in San Fernando Valley and followed for a day and a night, more or less. They are Phil, emotionally involved death bed nurse of Earl whose palliatives are purchased by new wife Linda, whose relationship with the old man has gotten rather turned around since he started to die from brain and lung cancer, which his sleazy guy-guru son Frank ignores, and meanwhile on TV a popular show on Earl’s own network stars near-record-breaking stressed genius kid Stanley, whose earlier parallel Donnie has been struck by lightning and thus reduced to stupidity or maybe normality, and of course, all is not well as the show’s host 30 years running, Jimmy, has himself contracted cancer, trying to clear up his ending life and therefore seeking out his estranged daughter Claudia who’s fond of narcotics, causing her to attract dispatch cop Jim right before he loses his gun.


The exposition is muddled by the soundtrack which is generally good, but intrusive in other places as well. The acting is very good. The plot is emotionally satisfying in terms of basic human stories, despite all that cancer. It builds effectively to a lot of tension and release, but it never comes together as a unified plot. Rather, the point of juggling a lot of characters seems to be maintaining pace and getting a bit of thematic substance in there. Jesus figure Jim Kurring gets the final word and it’s all about forgiveness.

The prologue’s three stories of unlikely events set up a deterministic premiss. Everything happens for a reason, which is true in itself, except that in Magnolia the reason is always the same intelligent and supernatural one. If it hadn’t been for the ending, I could have tolerated the Christian content far more easily. The metafiction is interesting in that respect: it uses classicist unity of time and confuses its constraints for divine intervention.

References here: Hawaii, Oslo (2004).

fiction moving picture