Magnolia

on December 17, 1999 by Christine James
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Carl Jung defined synchronicity as being "a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved" and, more succinctly, "an effect without a cause." "Magnolia" is bookended with references to amazing coincidences, with a narrator musing that some connections are meaningful, others pure chance. Though the parallels between this film's numerous characters range from uncanny to unnoticeable, making the synchronicity element merely a convenient segueway device that only sometimes pans out, the cause justifies the effect, so to speak.
   As in his brilliantly incisive "Boogie Nights," Anderson here tells the tales of remorse and hope among the lonely, the misguided, the desperate. There's policeman Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), who strives valiantly to do a top-notch job in spite of his insecurities; on investigating a noise complaint, he falls for stereo-blaring perpetrator Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters), whose fiendish coke addiction somehow eludes the otherwise observant officer's notice. Claudia's abuse of drugs on this rainy Southern California day is worse than usual after an unexpected visit from her loathed father, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), who tries to tell her, while dodging screamed epithets, that he's dying of cancer. Despite his terminal illness, he continues on with the quiz show he's hosted for decades, which is about to set a world record thanks to the reigning champ, child genius Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), who's smart enough to know that he's just a meal ticket to his father and a freakshow to the general public. Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), former golden boy of the same quiz show some 30 years earlier, watches Stanley's exploits on the TV of his local bar, where he mourns a life ruined by the high expectations, false celebrity and fickle attentions set upon him at so young an age. Meanwhile, another television star, macho infomercial host Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), teaches men who are unlucky in love how to "seduce and destroy," not realizing that the man behind his misogynistic persona, his estranged father Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), is on his deathbed, under the care of his unbalanced, guilt-ridden wife Linda (Julianne Moore) and altruistic hospice nurse Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who goes above and beyond the call of duty to grant his dying patient's last wish to be reunited with his son. Ultimately, it takes an apocalyptic deluge from the heavens to put everything in its proper perspective.
   All performances are flawless, and the masterful fluidity with which writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson puts down one strand to pick up another is as artful as his heartbreakingly dead-on insight into the human condition. Starring Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, Philip Baker Hall and Jeremy Blackman. Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. Produced by Joanne Sellar. A New Line release. Drama. Rated R for strong language, drug use, sexuality and some violence. Running time: 188 min
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