I caught Magnolia, an older movie (1999) starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and John C. Reilly, this week. I had remembered that, when it came out, there was this big stink about Tom Cruise's odd role in it. Having seen the film, now, though, I don't think his role was what I'd call odd. More accurately, it's just different from the characters he usually plays.
Here's the skinny: The film follows the stories of seemingly unconnected characters, although the short narrative at the beginning of the movie lets us know that these characters ARE all related in one way or another. (This plot device has since been used with varying degrees of success in other films - see Crash, Traffic, etc.) In quick sequences, we are introduced to a cocaine addict and her famous TV-show-host father, an infomercial king who sells ideas on how to "Seduce and Destroy" the opposite sex (Cruise), a child genius and his callous father, a rich man dying of lung cancer (jason Robards) along with his trophy wife (Moore) and hospice nurse (Hoffman), a soft-hearted cop (Reilly), and a washed-up game show contestant (Macy).
Each character is dealing with their own crisis, and these inner (and external) conflicts are depicted in heartbreaking relief by the superb performances in the cast. Eventually, the viewer sees how each story is connected to all of the others, how all of the seemingly disparate lives are part of a larger family.
I was totally hooked by this movie. The acting is amazing, with Moore, Hoffman, Reilly, and Cruise being particular standouts. (I think Cruise goes over the top a bit in some early scenes, but he more than redeems himself in his final sequences. Moore, Hoffman, and Reilly are pitch-perfect.)
As the threads of each storyline were slowly woven together, I begin thinking that this was a GREAT movie. But then, something completely ridiculous happened at the end. It rained frogs. Yes, it literally rained frogs. And I couldn't get past it. And I still don't understand it. Why, oh WHY did director Paul Thomas Anderson do this to me? Is he trying to say that, in some way, the collision of the characters portends the end times? What? Somebody please help me out here. I was willing to give this movie an A, or at least a B+, until the end. The end kinda ruined it for me.
Note - not for younger audiences. Lots of sexual content, some nudity, tons of language.