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Cup of Ko-Fi: A Review of Magnolia (1999)

In the second edition of Cup of Ko-Fi, this film review is thanks to Another Digital Citizen Podcast. Make sure you check them out on Twitter (here) as well as their podcast (here). Want me to review a film of your choice? For the price of £3, I will do so as well as give you a shout out! You can do this over here.

Magnolia (1999) is an American epic drama which is written, co-produced and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This film has a star studded line-up, which includes Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly. Focusing on the area of San Francisco, this three-hour film interweaves a collection of individual stories in one day all together in this city, as all of the characters are in search of happiness or forgiveness, even if their paths are very different.

This film may just have my favourite opening of all time. What a way to set up a film like this. It is a start that is so powerful, even without the rest of the film, and immediately grabs your attention. From the way it was told to the way it was shot and edited together, I have never seen an opening sequence quite like this one. Even if the plot seems simple and repetitive in it’s formula to you, that opening will convince you that you are in safe hands with Paul Thomas Anderson.

There are so many strong performances in this film, due to the sheer amount of incredible actors to watch. I am glad that it was Tom Cruise who got the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor though, as he is a clear stand out in his extravagant role. He has so many layers to give here, from the dominant male on stage to the son of a dying man. I would have to say that this is by far the best performance that Cruise has ever given in a film.

I did not expect this film to end up being so emotional, but it is those moments that the film shines. There is a prolonged moment near the two-hour mark which is basically a montage of every character’s bad moments happening at one time, and yet it felt real and authentic. There was a great balance between every story and everyone who is on screen, so that you ended up caring for each person and their situation. From the music choices to the editing, this sequence and so many more were so well executed and felt poetic.

I found the final few scenes to be quite jarring in tone to begin with, and very confusing for the real world that was set up. But then, I decided to do some research on the reasoning for that moment to occur in the film and it makes total sense. For a film made before 2000, the scene was well executed and looked real. I also liked the end message that Anderson was going for, as well as the continuous hints that he put in leading up to that dramatic finale. It is something that should not be revealed before you watch it for the first time, because it is shocking and very unpredictable.

After the incredible opening sequence, it does take a while to get into the film. Whilst the editing and cinematography are stunning throughout the film, I would say that this film does feel like it’s long runtime of three hours. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can get tiring after a while. This may be due to the amount of stories and information that is getting loaded into the viewer’s head after a while, but that alongside the heavy emotion in the film could make this a hard watch for a first-time viewer.

There are also some stories in here that are naturally weaker than the others. The moments that worked best for me were from the “What Do Kids Know?” set as well as when Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise) is on screen, as I felt fully engaged in their storylines. I wish I could have been connected more with the likes of Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) or Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore), but on a first-time watch there was simply too much going on and they felt like background characters at some points. I’m sure this viewpoint will change when I watch this film again in the future.

I am so glad that I not only got requested to review this, but that I could finally expose myself to Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. This is beautifully poetic in every sense, and I know that it is the sort of film that I can go back on and appreciate even more. With incredibly strong performances, a captivating start and a great message, I will easily recommend this to my fellow readers.


Have you seen Magnolia, and what did you make of it? What Paul Thomas Anderson film should I check out next? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.

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