This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Simone’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The first time I saw this, I absolutely hated it. I swore I would never see it again. That was three years ago. Obviously, I lied, and I'm really glad I went back on my word. The last time I watched it, I tried way too hard to "get it" and I failed to let the emotion of the film wash over me. I was trying too hard to make everything fit together plot-wise instead of letting the stories connect thematically. All that has changed now. By not trying so hard to understand the intent behind the film, I feel like I understand how it's supposed to make the audience feel more clearly.
First, I should talk about the music. The soundtrack is vital to the film and why it feels like an overblown, self-important farce on a first-watch (at least for me). The score clashes with the drama unfolding on the screen purposefully, I think. I felt like I was being challenged to remember at all times that this is a film, but that these situations could all (and do) happen in real life. PTA challenges us to see how the themes connect, but lets us off the hook in terms of having a 100% immersive experience.
This film is even richer thematically than PTA's previous films. In Magnolia, he is letting all of his ideas and feelings about life come to a head as he tries to capture the entirety of the human experience in the tiny microcosm of San Fernando Valley. The myriad characters in this film are exposed as flawed, but beautiful and wonderful people. They experience a lot of tragedy and pain, but they are also able to cling to hope and change for the better. I think the most pervasive themes are that of turning guilt from the past into forgiveness and redemption. Sometimes, the film beats you over the head with the theme of forgetting the past, but it is mostly shown through the interactions of the characters. Everyone in this film has at least one redeeming characteristic, which I find very pleasant. I loved the arcs they take in such a short amount of time. You grow to care about them and hope for the best. When they smile, you smile, and you feel better.
Again, PTA shows his attention to detail is as acute as ever. I think Magnolia is where he really comes into his own as a filmmaker, pushing the three hour film forward at a breakneck pace. The way you follow the characters around, seeing things from their point of view, is my favorite technique of his. The editing of the scenes and myriad perspectives together is flawless. It must've been a grueling process!
My second favorite shot/technique is when he focuses on the character who is listening to another character instead of switching back and forth. By capturing these reactions for such a long duration, you feel very connected to the character. The dialogue and the action doesn't matter in those moments. The perfect example of this in Magnolia is when Tom Cruise as Frank Mackey returns to the stage after his emotional interview with the reporter. He is trying to get his bearings while you hear the crowd reacting to his sudden change of demeanor and lack of confidence. As you're hearing them, all you feel is sympathy for Mackey and what he's going through because you are only allowed to look at his face. It's absolutely brilliant.
There are two scenes in the film that take a huge departure from the realism of the more intimate scenes and go into fantasy territory. The first big example is the scene when all of the main characters take turns singing an Aimee Mann song. Even though it's completely implausible, it is yet another sign that PTA doesn't want you to forget that you're watching a film. The second, and most obvious departure from reality, is the frogs falling from the sky. I still feel like it's an awkward and out-of-place scene, but now that I know he isn't pushing religious imagery on us to convince us of something, I'm cool with it. It works because it's memorable and it ties the stories back into the prologue about coincidences.
Overall, this is an extremely ambitious film that gets much better when you watch it multiple times. This is my second, and I already know that my third and fourth viewings will further my love for this great film. Again, even more excited for The Master this Friday! There's one more film in my PT Anderson marathon, and that's There Will Be Blood. Get ready for many superlatives and synonyms of the word "perfect."