January’s been a funny month. For the first time I couldn’t finish either my Classics Challenge read or this months film and I think in a way The Sound and the Fury and Magnolia have a lot in common. Both are multilayered with each characters story told in their own style as they interweave with each other. Usually I would say this is a style I enjoy, but not this time I’m afraid.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia has a large ensemble cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and William H. Macy who create a mosaic of interrelated stories centred around their connection to Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) a big shot tv producer, who lies in bed about to die.
Julianne Moore plays his wife Linda raging with raw anger and Tom Cruise his estranged son Frank Mackey; a motivational speaker giving a series of sex advice seminars to single men entitled ‘Seduce and Destroy’. His evangelical strutting and posturing made me feel as offended as I was supposed to and gave his sinister line to a female journalist, ‘I’m quietly judging you’ a horribly chilling resonance.
Big Earl Partridge Productions has a long running general quiz show ‘What Do Kids Know’, fronted by Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) who also has only months to live and has an estranged daughter Claudia (Melora Walters), a vulnerable young women dealing with addiction and trying to get her life together. A young contestant on the show, Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) and his father Rick (Michael Bowen) provide a third parent/child relationship and Stanley, the only character I felt any real compassion for. At the start of the show he desperately wants to go to the bathroom but isn’t allowed because it will get in the way of filming, as he becomes more and more uncomfortable his ability to answer questions stops; his father meanwhile is shouting and screaming at him backstage thinking that the intense pressure he puts on his son can be redeemed with a quick ‘I love you’ at the end of a sentence.
I know that Magnolia has legions of fans and is rated highly for its boldness and originality among many other things but like The Sound and the Fury I found that these fractured lives interwoven with rage and unhappiness formed a whole that was too dark and bitter for me.