Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cocaine Decisions

1999. 188 minutes. USA. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Watchdate: 9/9/2012.
The problem with doing too much cocaine, as I understand it, is that it makes you think every idea you have is a good idea. Evidently, Magnolia amounts in large part to a parade of cocaine decisions. The opening sequence of the movie offers the tantalizing possibility of a masterful cinematic examination of the nature of coincidence, both hilarious and tragic in equal measure. With each moment that passes after this perfectly orchestrated opening, the movie grows ever more frantic, overwrought and slipshod, taking on the rhythm of Scorsese without his coherency, the scope of Kubrick or Altman without their poignancy, even the absurdity of Buñuel without his satiric edge. 

It's a great big mess of a movie and sometimes those work out really well, but a lot of other times they become exhausting to watch. For every excellent performance, from Julianne Moore's shrill drug addict to Tom Cruise's self-parodying machismo, there is a muddled spray of Paul Thomas Anderson's creepy daddy issues. And as a lover of the bizarre and outré in nearly every kind of narrative I can imagine, I am particularly outraged by the use of random singing and a rain of frogs to cover up for a lack of good ideas to draw the movie to a close. The random singing sequence in this movie is and will always be stupid as hell. The rain of frogs may have worked had the entire three hour running time not been made to rest on the event's shoulders, turning a potentially amusing idea into a shallow gimmick.

Cocaine may make every idea in your head seem great, but the thing about drugs is eventually you come down from the high and have to sort out the rare insight from the rest of the nonsense. This is a movie made by a cokehead, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.