The 90s gave us the mosaic structured movie. Movies which feature several plots which are at first seemingly unrelated but at the end of the movie all share a connection. In the 90s this structure was used in dramas mostly, the last decade however it’s being used in mostly romantic (comedy) movies with an ensemble cast. Love Actually, New Years day and Valentines Day immediately spring to mind. Magnolia is the opposite of light hearted romance as it features several story lines which basically all deal with death in one way or another.
This 3 hour plus movie takes place in one day and follows several people who will face their demons. The core of the movie revolves around the death bed of Earl Partridge. Slowly dying from brain and lung cancer his state affects not only the trophy wife who married him for the money but actually started to love him during their marriage, but also his male nurse and his estranged son. Then there’s a game show which he produced and which is used to tie in to several other story lines: the host of the show has just learnt he has cancer and tries to make amends with his daughter. The daughter is a cocaine addict but when a cop shows up and takes a liking in her they go out on a date. Donnie Smith was a famous contestant 30 years ago on the game show and has now money problems and one of the current young contestants is put under constant pressure by his dad and the production team.
Magnolia is a heavy and bleak movie. There are no laughs here, no light sides to the stories. Even the date between the cop and the addict feels awkward at points. The over self confident sex guru T.J. Mackey, well played by Tom Cruise who drops his usual schtick, eventually breaks down over the course of the movie as his past is unravelled. One of the key recurring sentences in the movie is “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us” and that is true for almost all the major characters, especially now that death has come knocking on their doors.
Magnolia is a well acted, well constructed ensemble piece full of tragic characters in tragic stories. It’s also filled with symbolism and shows a world where all people have skeletons in their closets, present day success isn’t a solution to problems in the past and where past success doesn’t automatically mean it’s smooth sailing the rest of your life.
Magnolia is a good movie, but it’s also a really depressing one. An ideal movie for when it’s raining frogs outside.