***Here we have another excellent new piece on Magnolia. This one comes from Bryce Wilson, the author of the terrific Things That Don't Suck blog. Any piece that begins with a song lyric by Aimee Mann gets an automatic thumbs up in my book, but thankfully the whole article is very moving as well. Bryce calls Magnolia one of his favorite films towards the end of this and I share that feeling, so I am happy to present another tribute to this glorious work.***
"Please don’t work your stuff/ Because I’ve got problems enough"
What a lonely and sad movie Magnolia is. But how tender. Magnolia is a film that remains underestimated until it’s watched again. People remember it, but in parts not in whole. It’s the show stoppers, and Magnolia is made up of nearly nothing but, that remain in the mind, the mini film about coincidence that opens the movie, Tom Cruises uber misogynistic rants and the transcendent "Wise Up" scene, where every character in the film takes a moment to sing along to anthem of repeated mistakes.
But what perhaps is not remembered is the film’s bruising melancholy. The way it plays less like a movie sometimes and more of a collage of human misery, chronicling its characters despair, and the way they ache for something more. It’s a movie about the mess we make of our lives, and the terrible hurt we carry with us to be something better, to be something good.
The film follows a day in the life of a group of misanthropes, failures, and wasted prodigies across LA, whose lives have reached a point of no return. It portrays it’s character’s yearnings and failings with a compassion and lack of judgement that’s nearly saint like. The characters of Magnolia fail, unable to overcome the sins of their fathers, unable to shrug off the horrid burden the future holds for them, unable to forgive themselves for what they have done and what has been done to them, and most of all what they have become. All held together by Aimee Mann’s desperate score.
But if Magnolia was merely a documentation of human ugliness it would hardly be worth mentioning, let alone seeing. It would be a Todd Solonz movie. What makes Magnolia a masterpiece and what makes PT Anderson an artist is the way it captures people striving to become decent and how hard it is to do that simple thing. Like the similarly inclined Johnathon Frazen, Anderson knows that miserabilism is not enough. So many films are so timid and Magnolia is a bold movie. Bold not merely in its scope and ambition, but in it’s honesty. Character’s say what they are feeling, without bothering with subterfuge. When in the closing moments one of the characters protests through a broken blood filled mouth “That he has love.” It’s not the lack of artiface we’re concerned about, but the desperate raw nerved pain behind it.
The film has two characters a nurse and cop who go through their lives struggling to do good. They can’t help everyone in the movie, there are simply too many who need their help. But the ones they can aid, they do, and the relief they give is as sustaining as CPR to someone who has stopped breathing. For so accurately depicting the weight of guilt and sin, and the way simple kindness can lift that weight, Magnolia is one of my favorite movies. It’s a film that takes you into the darkest reaches of the human heart and soul, and then takes the terrible weight from your shoulders with a simple perfect smile.