A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 616 – Magnolia

Magnolia – November 6th, 2011

At this point in the project I have seen three movies written and directed by P.T. Anderson. And all three of them have made me tense, anxious and upset. I don’t think I can dismiss that as having to do with one particular movie’s subject or whatever. Three movies, same reaction. I do not like these movies. I do not like his choice of subject. I do not ever want to see another thing he does or has done. Never. The concept here is a good one, but as far as I can tell, Anderson makes movies about unpleasant and miserable people doing unpleasant things to each other and innocent people getting hurt in the process. That is not the sort of movie I want to watch. If I hadn’t been watching this as a part of this project, I would have turned it of 20 minutes in. Because I knew right then and there that it was not a movie I would want to watch. But I watched it. I watched the whole thing and it wasn’t short because apparently Anderson isn’t content with making short movies about misery, he has to make long and agonizing movies instead. And it would be awfully fucking nice to have that three hours of my life back with which to do something far more enjoyable. Like running a belt sander over my face.

This movie is a prime example of why I react as I do to overhype. The problem is, no one movie can be all things to all people. Taste is subjective and personal and individuals will react in individual ways. I knew Andy loved this movie. I knew it had stuck with him and that it was the sole reason we own Punch Drunk Love. Because he was so impressed with this movie, he had to buy Punch Drunk Love on the strength of the writer/director, without knowing anything else about it aside from that the lead role was played by an actor he doesn’t normally enjoy. Think about that for a moment. Andy was so impacted by this movie that he was willing to give an unknown movie starring someone he didn’t like a chance because it was directed by the same guy. Obviously it means something to him. And yet I found this movie painful to watch. I actually had to leave the room at one point lest the tone give me anxiety nightmares. And I feel terrible that I can’t love a movie that’s clearly meant something to Andy. At the same time, I refuse to sit back and pretend I liked it to spare his feelings because it wasn’t just a blah reaction. And I want to be honest when things bother me to this extent. And then I feel bad. This happens whenever someone has talked something up to be the be-all and end-all of movies or shows or music. I want to be honest, and sometimes that means being very clear about a strongly negative reaction, but I don’t want to crush the person who was so eager to share. I’m sorry, Andy. Had I seen this movie earlier I would have known how I’d react to Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood and perhaps spared myself the agita.

I will say that I did like the concept. I don’t have a problem with the conceit of the movie or with the cast or the acting. The writing I do have a problem with, but because of the stories themselves, not because of the quality. The whole idea of the movie is to show a number of different stories, the lives of a wide variety of people, interconnected here and there and touching each other in unexpected ways. And that is a cool concept. It’s an ensemble piece with a few core stories woven together with little threads of other stories peeking out. I like the meandering nature of it, or I would if it didn’t lead to the movie being three hours long (and still with storylines not entirely fleshed out) and full of tension. Because the trouble here is that these stories are not happy ones. Even the stories with positive moments are tense and largely uncomfortable. The most positive story I can really see in the whole thing is Jim and Claudia. Jim is a cop who talks to himself on the way to calls as if he’s being interviewed for a documentary about his job. Claudia is a woman whose door he knocks on when her neighbors complain about her loud music. Jim is immediately attracted to Claudia and despite her nerves over having a cop in her apartment (Claudia is a cocaine addict and had to hastily clean up when Jim knocked) she seems attracted to him as well. By the end of the movie they’ve gone on a date, made some difficult admissions and formed a tentative but hopeful connection. And that’s great! But their entire story is all nervous courting and anxious gestures and awkward moments strung together. Despite its overall positive nature, the telling of it is uncomfortable to watch.

And that’s how it all goes. Claudia is the daughter of Jimmy Gator, a prominent television personality who hosts a trivia show where a team of kids is pitted against a team of adults. Claudia doesn’t want to see or talk to her father. Jimmy tells her he’s dying of cancer. She still doesn’t want to talk to him. Later on we see Jimmy telling colleagues he’s dying before he goes on the air to host the night’s episode. On the show is a boy named Stanley, whose father seems to care more about the money his son wins and the potential television connections he’ll make than his son’s well being. Stanley and his father and Jimmy and the television show are one of the major storylines of the movie in addition to Jim and Claudia. Then connected to them is Donnie, who was a contestant on the show when he was a kid and who is now getting fired from his dead-end job and spends much of the movie getting drunk and flirting (badly) with a bartender. And seemingly disconnected to all of that is Earl Partridge, who is on his deathbed and attended by a nurse named Phil. Earl’s wife is a younger woman who married him for his money and is now wracked by guilt because she finds she actually loves him. Earl’s son is a misogynistic jerk who gives self-help seminars to men, teaching them how to be more aggressive toward women.

Let’s talk about Earl’s son for a moment here. He’s a jackass. And you’re supposed to think so. I will give the movie this much credit: Frank, the son, is not supposed to be much of a sympathetic character. Towards the end, yes, you’re supposed to sympathize a bit due to his background and all, but I think really you’re supposed to feel bad that he’s so broken. That his personality is so horrible. That he’s a liar who encourages men to treat women like shit. I truly believe you’re supposed to pity him and I buy that because it’s done well. And I don’t think he’s ever really redeemed. Maybe he’s on the path to it, but that’s not what this movie is concerned with. This movie is concerned with misery, and through the course of it Frank’s misery gets a nice slow reveal. On the other hand, I didn’t for one moment enjoy having the character on my screen. The most telling moment about him, for me, was after the morning session of his seminar, when he goes to meet a journalist who’s come to interview him during the lunch break. She’s standing near the door in the room full of men attending the seminar and Frank tells her they should leave because “It’s not safe for you in here right now.” Do you know what that is? That is an outright admission that Frank knows that he’s just spent the morning riling up his audience into a place where it’s entirely possible they’ll act violently toward a woman in their midst. That’s sickening. So I can pity him, yes. But I cannot sympathize with him. Ever. And I cannot enjoy his portions of the movie.

There are two people I liked and actively cared about in this movie: Stanley and Phil. Now, Phil comes out okay since he didn’t have a whole lot going on other than getting invested in Earl’s life and his reunion with Frank and all. He did a good thing, getting Frank in touch with Earl before the Earl died. And he’s sad at the end, but he did his job and he went above and beyond and when the movie ends I felt like he was going to walk away knowing he’d done something to make a difference. Stanley, on the other hand? Stanley I have little hope for. His story ends with his assertion to his father that his father needs to be nicer to him. And his father tells him “go to bed” each time Stanley speaks. That is where the movie leaves Stanley. I can see two roads there: Festering resentment such that Stanley snaps, or such that Stanley ends up like Donnie. Those are not good endings for Stanley. And that makes me so sad.

I realize that this movie is about the interconnectedness of the lives of people who might think they’re total strangers. I realize that Stanley gets a bit of an epiphany late in the movie and that might serve him well in the future. I realize that P.T. Anderson apparently likes making movies about miserable people being miserable in the same way that Wes Anderson likes making movies about quirky families and Michael Bay likes making movies about explosions. Put all that together and I understand why this movie is what it is. And I can recognize the skill involved in making it. It’s quite a feat to take all of these stories and fit them together and have them work as a whole. But the fact remains that it’s three hours of people being miserable and making other people miserable and well, no amount of skill is going to make that something I want to watch.

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November 6, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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