MAYBE THIS IS ABOUT ‘MAGNOLIA’

Nothing says “I got free time aplenty” like watching a three-hour movie.

The first thing I think about when it comes to a three-hour runtime is children. Given how demanding being a parent must be, I can’t imagine a parent ever being able to watch Magnolia outside of 15-30 minute chunks every night. That’s where my brain goes off because whenever I talk to my family, they’ll ham-fist references to the possibility of children.

“When are you gonna have some children?”

“Hopefully soon. The idea of financial stress and sleep deprivation sounds wonderful!”

That’s right, when my family has the audacity to ask me things, I turn into Al Jaffee writing a new edition of “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” for Mad Magazine.

So, because I’ve only creampied Fleshlights never successfully planted a seed, I was able to successfully travel back to 1999 with Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic, Magnolia.

I have a love/hate relationship with long movies. My first reaction to such a demanding runtime is, naturally, hatred. I don’t get why your average Hollywood film will run long before it ever runs short. The example I always go to is Duck SoupDuck Soup is one of the all-time great Hollywood comedies. Its runtime is 70 minutes. That’s clearly one of the film’s strengths, but good luck getting people to acknowledge no comedy needs to run an hour-forty.

After watching Magnolia, I’m coming to this odd realization that the average three-hour movie is more worthy of being seen compared to most two-hour films. While many mundane features run two hours, three-hour movies routinely seem to be striving towards something we aren’t getting in other movies. Between this and Raintree County, I’m realizing there’s something about a three-hour epic I really enjoy.

You read that last part right: I also don’t fully understand my undeniable admiration for Raintree County. What made me watch it twice on TCM last year? Perhaps it’s the haunting aspect of Montgomery Clift having to hide the left side of his face for a noticeable portion of the film because of a car crash that happened in the middle of shooting. Allegedly the pain brought on by this life-altering accident made Clift cling to alcohol and pain pills to a point described as “the longest suicide in Hollywood history.” Antique Hollywood stories that sound like travesties echoing of the walls of an old manor every night are my heroin.

But to go back to the three-hour epic that doesn’t star Elizabeth Taylor as a Southern belle during the Civil War who’s hysterical over the possibility that her birth mother is black, I loved Magnolia. It’s three hours and I couldn’t look away. I was livid at my bladder any time I had to pee because I wouldn’t allow the movie to run without me. I was so taken in that I’d either pause it or rewind it. When’s the last time a movie did that for you?

There are many wonderful things happening in Magnolia; Tom Cruise obviously stands out. The manic energy within a character who’s Mystery from The Pickup Artist on speed reminded me of Christian Bale using Tom Cruise as inspiration for his performance in American Psycho. Bale said Cruise possesses this intensely friendly demeanor with nothing in his eyes, and that’s very much Frank T. J. Mackey. It’s a unique performance because the character starts off as the tireless enigma recognized from Cruise’s public persona and by the end, he’s behaving like an actual human with real thoughts and feelings. I think my favorite Tom Cruise performance prior to seeing Magnolia was Collateral, and now Magnolia might be #1.

How do you feel about PTA? It’s odd, his films routinely tell intensely dark stories, and yet Boogie Nights and Magnolia are far more watchable than something recent like Phantom Thread. I watched less than half of Phantom Thread before tapping out to the tedious torture. The bores who say “I could listen to Daniel Day Lewis recite his breakfast order all day” need to stop making the world so gray. It reminds me of Henry Gibson saying in Magnolia, “It was the lovely Samuel Johnson who also spoke of a fellow ‘who was not only dull…but a cause of dullness in others.'”

According to the IMDb trivia for Magnolia, George C. Scott was approached to play Earl Partridge. He apparently threw the script across the room and said, “This is the worst fucking thing I’ve ever read. The language is terrible.” Now, was he offended by how the script says “fuck” near 200 times, or was he saying the writing sucked? Given George C. Scott starred in gritty ’70s films I highly recommend like Hardcore and The Hospital, it’s hard to picture him saying “I WON’T ADVOCATE SUCH VULGARITY!”

Hearing George C. Scott turned Magnolia down kills me. I LOVE George C. Scott. Among the films I mentioned in the last paragraph, the version of A Christmas Carol with him as Scrooge is my most essential watch every December. This past December I was beyond burnt out on movies and I still rewatched it.

We could’ve had George C. Scott, Tom Cruise, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same scene. Someone should’ve talked some sense into him. Then again, he was close to the grave, what did he care? He didn’t have extra years to regret not recognizing what PTA offered like Burt Reynolds.

Maybe somewhere within this incoherency, you’ve become aware of how much I loved Magnolia. It’s a film that makes us understand why people routinely consider 1999 the last great year for movies. What makes it the last great year? Probably because it was one of the final moments before the superhero takeover we’re still suffering from. The closest thing to a superhero movie in 1999 was Mystery MenBlade came out the previous year and few realized it was based on a comic book, better times.

To be fair to superhero movies, anything that dominates a medium for 20 years is bound to be exhausting. The worst thing about superhero movies is whenever people try to sell you on their alleged intelligence. Instead of getting a legitimate political thriller, we’re stuck with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Maybe the political conversations I see on Twitter wouldn’t all be sniveling temper tantrums if Kevin Feige and Mickey Mouse weren’t filling in for Oliver Stone. 

Instead of quality three-hour epics like Magnolia, we’re stuck with something as bland as Avengers: Endgame. That film feels like the season finale episodes from The Golden Girls where the cast sat around the kitchen eating cheesecake and Dorothy would say “now Ma do you remember that one day with the hurricane and you…” before cutting to a clip from an episode that aired eight weeks ago. For two hours that film revisited past set-pieces before the final hour arrived at some original material. Besides single parents who need a three-hour film to keep their kid occupied while boning a Tinder date, I don’t understand adults who love that movie. Martin Scorsese’s right: MCU fans are bigger babies than David Manzy! That irrelevant reference just earned me a Dennis Miller merit badge, babe. 

I didn’t need to end on a middle finger to superhero movies but hey, why not possibly antagonize people taking time to read things I write? Yep, I’m currently flipping you off while “Take Me Home Tonight” plays like MacGruber.

I saw MacGruber in theaters with a girl who wasn’t my girlfriend. My girlfriend at the time (and her mom) weren’t happy. Maybe that’s why she ended things a month later. Soon after that breakup, I fooled around with the girl I saw MacGruber with–she kinda looked like Sarah Silverman. We hooked up after she texted me one night and said “hey MacGruber, when are you gonna get over here and pound some Cunth?” Kidding, romantic lines like that only exist in Richard Curtis’ imagination.

Before we go I should remind you the main topic of this piece has allegedly been Magnolia. If you wanna check it out for yourself it’s on HBO Max. Then again if you’re seeing this after January, I’m here to channel Jojo and inform you you’re too little too late, for now. God knows films on streaming services come and go like herpes. So if you’re on HBO Max and require another film with an incestuous reveal, check out Chinatown.