Home » Featured » Magnolia [1999]: An exhaustively detailed & extensively refined study of the human condition

Magnolia [1999]: An exhaustively detailed & extensively refined study of the human condition

An intricately plotted & immaculately directed ensemble drama that’s nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster, Magnolia is an original, engrossing & soul-stirring mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness & meaning that delivers a truly one of a kind cinematic experience.

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“I really feel… That Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make.” — Paul Thomas Anderson

From the writer-director of Boogie Nights comes another original, engrossing & soul-stirring ensemble drama that exquisitely interweaves the emotional arcs of its deftly layered characters into an impeccably braided storyline, which is then narrated with such confidence, compassion & composure that every minute of its 3 hours runtime is downright mesmerising & brimming with intense emotions.




Magnolia covers a day in the lives of several individuals living in the San Fernando Valley, each broken in their own little ways, each looking for love or forgiveness, each connected to the other in unexpected ways, and each haunted by the ghosts of their past. Arranged like a mosaic, the plot follows every character on their own path which intersects or overlaps with the other’s, building on top of one another, as they all head toward an absolution.

Written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, his third feature film is by all means an ambitious & audacious project that examines the human condition through its multitude of flawed characters. Anderson’s direction is absolutely top-notch as he seamlessly transitions from one subplot to another without interrupting the pace but his screenplay is just as accomplished, handling several full-fledged characters & their sprawling arcs with elegance & precision.

By giving equal weight & attention to every single one of its complex, believable & interesting characters, Anderson creates this little universe of so many distinct personalities that every viewer will find someone with whom they can relate to & get on board with. Just like his previous feature, Anderson focuses heavily on the human qualities of these scripted people, which not only gives an authentic touch to their struggles & interaction but also making it easy for the audience to invest in them.




Production design team does a marvellous job at constructing well-detailed sets in a way that the camera manoeuvres through them without breaking continuity. Its fluid camerawork gives even its static scenes a sense of momentum and makes expert use of extended takes, slow zooms & smooth tracking. Editing seamlessly balances its several plot lines and allows them to unfurl at their own desired pace. Jon Brion’s score is always detectable in the background while Aimee Mann’s music only adds to the film’s mood.

Coming to the performances, Magnolia boasts a terrific ensemble in Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Melora Walters, Jeremy Blackman, and everyone embraces their roles wholeheartedly. Cruise impresses the most with a charismatic, show-stealing act that’s arguably his career-best. Moore’s input is so dense in emotions that it’s at times overwhelming. And Hoffman inspires affection with his tender & touching portrait. The rest are just as committed, if not more, and play their part with conviction.

On an overall scale, Magnolia is an intricately plotted & immaculately directed drama that’s nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster. Crafted with intimacy, narrated with flair & steered by strong performances from its faithful ensemble, every moment of this epic mosaic seems relevant to the story, and the cinematic experience it offers is truly one of a kind. Presenting its visionary filmmaker at the top of his game, Magnolia is an exhaustively detailed & extensively refined study of the human condition that approaches its subject matter in a truly unique fashion and is no less than a filmmaking achievement. One of Paul Thomas Anderson’s finest films, if not the finest. Highly recommended.

★★★★½

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