A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Magnolia" is a film of sadness and loss, of lifelong bitterness, of children harmed and adults destroying themselves. As the narrator tells us near the end, "We may be through with the past, but the past is never through with us." In this wreckage of lifetimes, there are two figures, a policeman and a nurse, who do what they can to offer help, hope and love.
That may not be the "Magnolia" you recall. It was not quite the film I recalled, either, and now that I have seen it again, my admiration has only deepened. On its release in 1999, our focus was perhaps distracted by the theme of coincidence, the intersecting storylines, and above all the astonishing coup with which Paul Thomas Anderson ended his film. Nor was the film a melancholy dirge; it was entertaining, even funny, always fascinating.
The central theme is cruelty to children, and its lasting effect. This is closely linked to a loathing or fear of behaving as we are told, or think, that we should. There are many major characters, but in the film's 180-minute running time, there is time to develop them all and obtain performances that seem to center on moments of deep self-revelation. Let's begin with two smart kids.
One is now an adult, still calling himself "Quiz Kid Donnie Smith" (William H. Macy). He was briefly famous as a child on a TV show and still expects people to remember him. Now he works in a furniture store, is a drunk, desperately needs money to get braces on his teeth in the forlorn hope that they will attract the bartender he has a crush on -- who also wears braces. He has an outburst about his childhood, but his most touching moment is when he cries out that he knows he has love, he knows he can love, he knows he is worth loving.