Magnolia (1999)

(In theaters, January 2000) As with 1998’s The Thin Red Line, there’s a great quasi-classic film inside Magnolia, but it’s smothered by at least forty-five extra minutes of padding. Clocking at more than three hours, director P.T. Anderson’s third feature is undoubtedly an ambitious film, juggling nine quirky main characters, a coincidence-filled storyline and several high-intensity emotional moments. But it’s also exasperatingly over-indulgent in its writing, editing and pacing: Characters ceaselessly break into repetitive, obscenity-filled monologues of little value. By the time a dying character is confessing a litany of past sins, most viewers will be checking their watches. This isn’t to say, however, that this is a bad film: The first fifteen minutes are a blast, as is the concluding rain scene. Anderson has an awe-inspiring mastery of directing (the film is filled with clever cinematographic tricks) and when Magnolia gets going, it truly is impressive. Expect film enthusiasts to dissect this one for years to come. (Favorite detail: The studio security officer taking away the “Exodus 8:2” sign, as if to protect the audience from spoilers… Favorite shot: Inside the ambulance crash…) But, sheesh, someone shoot the editor responsible for this mess. And beat up the people who didn’t suggest to Anderson that his script was perhaps a tad too long.

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