Magnolia

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By Mark Ramsey | 2000/01/09

I missed the advance screenings for Magnolia – I was nursing my addiction to E!’s Mysteries and Scandals. Where else can get you the lowdown on the mysterious circumstances of William Desmond Taylor’s murder in 1922? Who? What?

I’d better watch what I say. Host A.J. Benza is the only guy at E! who can kick my ass or get his tube socks in a knot trying.

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I do believe I’ve just experienced one of the best movies I’ll ever see. Magnolia is the first great movie of the 21st century. Okay, it’s also the first movie of the 21st century, but let’s not split hairs. Hey Hollywood, notice has been served: Consider the bar officially raised.

I was uneasy about seeing this flick at first, what with all the comparisons to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. I hated that movie, interweaving plots and all. That’s despite the most engagingly distracting sequence in movie history: Bottomless natural redhead Julianne Moore rants and raves in a scene longer than Tom Hank’s attack on Omaha Beach and significantly more satisfying on a strictly prurient level.

Of course, an attack is always easier when the shrapnel is light and the bush is heavy. And this particular bush is heavy enough to obscure several infantry divisions and the entire Pacific fleet. In fact, J. Crew is opening a Julianne Moore collection to compliment its cashmere shop thanks to abundant oversupply and the nouveau elegance of easy-to-wash natural red fibers.

With Magnolia, Julianne’s back – bottoms up.

Magnolia‘s from the unnervingly talented Paul Anderson, the Boogie Nights guy. And also main squeeze to that diva of dysfunction, Fiona Apple.

Amazingly, Paul didn’t lean on Fiona for his soundtrack – a remarkably restrained move and a lesson to all future directors of movies featuring Jewel. Instead, the music honor goes to former Til Tuesday songstress Aimee Mann. Unlike everyone in the LA I know, everyone in this movie LA is a Mann-fan and they break out in a chorus of Aimee Karaoke at about the mid-point. You know you’re in an alternate universe when Aimee’s lyrics are as well-known as Aretha Franklin’s. Is this hitmaker Aimee Aguilera? If so, I’ve got a genie for your bottle.

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USA Today reports that when director/writer Anderson approached George C. Scott for a role in Magnolia, George angrily tossed the script across the room in disgust. Perhaps George was possessed by the same demon that compelled him to sign on for Exorcist III. Was George holding out for another gig opposite talking dolphins?

Magnolia blasts off like a rocket and keeps on going. Some movies are three hours long and others just feel that way. These three hours fly by quicker than a Spice Girl marriage and without any of the bitter aftertaste.

The tangy role here goes to Tom Cruise, a self-help guru who’s the Tony Robbins of the frat-house, the prince of poontang, the siren of slimeballs, the commandant of cunnilingus. “Respect the cock and tame the cunt,” preaches Tom, a credible spokesman if ever there was one.

Lifestyle Coach Tom’s seminar topic: “How to turn your ‘friend’ into your sperm receptacle.” Look out, no pussy has nine lives when Tom puts the testes in testosterone. He’s Napoleon Boner-parte fighting the battle of the bush, air-humping with that most deadly of weapons, the Cruise missile. It’s over the top, boys and girls, and it’s a bravura turn from a terrific actor.

Tom could teach a thing or two to the feckless pharmacist who fills a bazillion scrips for Julianne Moore and mouth-farts perhaps the worst pickup line of all time: “Been on Prozac long?” Oops! Been single and lonely long, dude?

How can you not like a movie that uses real phone numbers like 818-725-4424 instead of abjectly fake ones beginning with “555″ designed to prevent idiots like me from inquisitively calling and harassing hapless Angelinos. You’d think these ritzy rich studios could afford to buy a couple of phone numbers for the sake of frickin’ credibility, no? Thank you, Paul Anderson, for pointing the way!

There’s also the subplot of the genius kid in the quiz show – the damn toughest quiz show of all time! Question: “Imagine you’re attending a jam session of Classical composers….” Holy God, are you kidding? The kid has to sing an opera to correctly answer the question. Is this show designed to appeal to the same dunderheaded populace bewitched by spinning wheels, twirling letters, and nitwitted instant millionaires? This movie is not the latest Dirty Harry epic: Magnolia Force!

Magnolia peaks on a bad weather day for humans but a really good one for amphibian predators. It’s raining cats and dogs … and frogs. Yes, fly-eating hail is toppling from the heavens. How many movies feature a Biblical-style plague, not counting the one called the “Ernest” series? Is this some kind of insidious Budweiser product placement? Where was this divine intervention when we were force-fed The Haunting?

Usually, heavenly intercession involves the parting of seas, not the plopping of amphibians. Forget the coasters, folks, just set out lilly pads and lets get toady! LA’s the world capital of toady, after all. And if you’re Mickey Rourke, a frog-shower is certainly better than none at all.

I can’t begin to describe what Magnolia is about; it will disarm and overwhelm you. From the intertwined threads of simple, everyday life, Magnolia braids a tapestry of overpowering mastery, stunning in its impact. An opus of loss, loneliness, and love, redemption, revelation, and reconciliation. A choir of synchronicity. Snuggle up to this movie and you won’t be disappointed.

Magnolia is, to paraphrase James Agee, a queerly toned, unique little reed. But out of it comes one incredible melody.

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