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Flowers in the Attic

Magnolia explores the underside of family life

There's something thrilling about director Paul Thomas Anderson's ability to completely suspend your beliefs. He has that subtle touch that transforms potentially cheesy situations into serious cinematic beauty. Remember Dirk Diggler's phallic pep talk at the end of Boogie Nights? Magnolia offers an equally bizarre lip synching sequence that has all nine characters singing the same teary tune, each in a different location. Seems ridiculous, huh? Somehow, in this film it seems closer to reality than the alarm clock that woke you up this morning.

In Magnolia , Anderson's third movie after Hard Eight and Boogie Nights , the filmmaker weaves a graceful tale of family affliction and personal anguish that takes place in the smog shrouded San Fernando Valley. Magnolia is a rough, down to the bone, relentlessly honest story of lives intersecting, changing, and crumbling. His characters face those dark truths that refuse to stay buried away, no matter how deep they're pushed.

At the center of all this digging lies Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a sick man who, as we soon figure out, has some family skeletons clamoring to escape the closet before he dies. His much younger wife Theresa (played with passionate precision by Julianne Moore) runs around frantically, amped up on high doses of Prozac and a few choice amphetamines obtained by her doctors. The trio is c.pleted by Earl's very emotional nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Phil has the great pleasure of experiencing Theresa's nervous breakdown and Earl's midnight hour regrets. And it is a pleasure -- in a twisted, cathartic sort of way.

But that's just the beginning. There's also Claudia (Melora Walters), a coked-out hermit who lovingly freaks out over a meek cop played by Anderson regular John C. Reilly; Claudia's game show host dad, aptly named Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall); a sick, slick, ultra-sexist version of infomercial king Tony Robbins (Tom Cruise, who, believe it or not, delivers a riveting performance, despite that toothy grin) who preaches "Respect the Cock, Tame the Cunt" to hundreds of dateless men; an exploited child genius (Jeremy Blackman); and the sad, lonely, lovelorn Donnie Smith (William H. Macy).

If the characters share one thing in common, it's that they're all wavering over that precarious rift between a dangerously dreary past and an uncertain future. Without abandoning us in an emotional abyss or a vacuum of sappy morality, the film curves through the lives of a few lost souls in transit, surrounded by fate, by chance, and by the harsh truths of their lives. Extraordinary performances all around, and Anderson's exquisite direction make watching Magnolia feel like one big cinematic epiphany.


rated R
3 hours 8 minutes

Julianne Moore
William H. Macy
Luis Guzman,
John C. Reilly
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Ricky Jay
Tom Cruise