Paul Thomas Anderson is known for his unconventional style of filmmaking. In Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, Anderson thrust previously taboo topics into the mainstream. Hailed by many as one of a new generation of filmmakers, Anderson definitely has a distinctive style. Magnolia is Anderson's third film, an excellent film about coincidence and the intersecting lives of people. Magnolia is one of those films whose promise is actually fulfilled. Anderson crafts together an excellent ensemble film that deftly weaves from story to story without leaving anyone bored.

The story takes place over the course of twenty-four hours in the San Fernando Valley. Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights) is a lonely police officer. Young Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a child prodigy. He is going for a record number of wins on the game show "What Do Kids Know," hosted by Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall, The Insider, The Talented Mr. Ripley). Gator is dying of cancer and wants to rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter, Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters, Boogie Nights, CBS's LA Doctors). Claudia is a coked-out drug abuser, and does not want a reconciliation. She will only speak with her mother, Rose Gator (Melinda Dillon, Bound for Glory, How to Make an American Quilt). Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy, Happy, Texas, Mystery Men) also appeared on Gator's show when he was a child. Now, he is an adult, trying to ride on the small coattails of his childhood fame. He cannot hold a job, and is in desperate need of money. Earl Partidge (Jason Robards, Parenthood, Philadelphia) another man dying. Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair, A Map of the World) is his younger, beautiful trophy wife and Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Flawless, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is his nurse. Earl wants Phil to try to contact Earl's estranged son Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise, Eyes Wide Shut, Jerry Maguire), a bombastic, rude motivational speaker who espouses "the power of the cock."

And those are just the main characters. One other presence looms throughout the entire movie, singer Aimee Mann. Her songs play throughout the movie, sometimes perfectly echoing the events and character's emotions. This is because Anderson based the movie off a number of her songs. Magnolia is a triumphant return for Mann, who was a casualty in the recording industry label wars. Even with the large number of principal characters, the individual stories never are forgotten. The sparkling acting is helpful. Big stars Moore, Cruise, and Macy lose themselves in their character, but, amazingly, are overshadowed by Walters, Reilly, and rising star Hoffman. The actors manage to keep the intensity of their performance high (especially Walters, whose character is crying throughout the entire movie) for the entire duration of the film, not an easy feat.

Magnolia is so enjoyable because it is hard to categorize and different from much of what is out there. Robert Altman also makes large, long ensemble movies, but his movies are comedies, and tie up nicely at the end. Anderson's film does not necessarily answer every question out there, and although there are humorous parts, Magnolia is definitely a drama. The characters in the film are flawed, and most are seeking some sort of redemption for their wrongs. The movie works because of the control Anderson exerted over it. He demanded (and got) final approval over pretty much everything, from the dizzyingly hypnotic trailers to the final cut of the film. There were no studio executives there to tell him to add or delete anything. A sequence near the end of the movie is clearly a good example of this. Except for some well-placed hints (only if you beef up on your knowledge of the book of Exodus), this sequence is completely unexpected and quite unlike anything in any movie. In the hands of anyone else, it would be hokey, but Anderson makes it work, like he does for the rest of the movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
3 hours, 8 minutes, Rated R for strong language, drug use, sexuality, and some violence.

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