For his follow-up to Boogie Nights—a sweeping, multi-character chronicle of several crucial years in the adult-film industry that was equal parts daring, funny, and touching—writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has decided to get really ambitious. Re-enlisting much of his Boogie Nights cast (with some notable additions), Anderson has turned his attention to one eventful day in Los Angeles that finds a handful of diverse, seemingly unconnected characters reaching crisis points as their lives intersect. Among them: Jason Robards as a cancer victim whose imminent demise is greeted with decidedly different reactions from his younger wife (Julianne Moore) and saintly caretaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Tom Cruise as a misogynist motivational speaker, John C. Reilly as an earnest and lonely cop, Philip Baker Hall as a TV game-show host attempting to reconcile with his coke-abusing daughter (Melora Walters), William H. Macy as a troubled former boy genius, and Jeremy Blackman as his young heir apparent. It's a potentially unwieldy undertaking, and at times Magnolia feels unwieldy. Anderson once again merges Altman's scope with Scorsese's stylistic adventurousness, and early on it's not clear he knows what he's doing, and that he might simply have thrown every story he felt like telling into one movie whether it make sense to do so or not. He does, he didn't, and by the end, everything makes sense, Anderson having slowly revealed the web of chance and coincidence that binds his characters together. It's a melancholy, meditative wonder—even when it breaks its mood for a climax straight out of either Ripley's Believe It Or Not! or The Bible—that's probably the least immediately pleasing of Anderson's three films. But it's also his richest, deepest, and most rewarding, a film impossible to forget and difficult to shake, filled with memorable characters and driven by a sadly hopeful sense of humanity. As bright as Anderson's future looks (three films, each a distinct, unqualified success), this might be the one for which he's remembered.
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