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Magnolia Reviews

A sprawling, leisurely film that recalls Robert Altman's NASHVILLE in both idiosyncrasy and emotional depth as it strolls through the lives of several unhappy Angelenos. They include spiritually conflicted Linda (Julianne Moore), trophy wife of dying TV mogul Earl Partridge (Jason Robards); Earl's home-care nurse Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman); and Earl's estranged son, misogynistic motivational speaker Frank Mackey (Tom Cruise), who changed his name in an attempt to bury his family past. Child prodigy Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is cleaning up on a quiz show called "What Do Kids Know?" but can't seem to please his dad (Michael Bowen), a failed actor. Host Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) is trying to reconcile with his coke-addict daughter (Melora Walters), who's caught the eye of a lovelorn cop (John C. Reilly) under unlikely circumstances. And Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), one-time "What Do Kids Know?" star, is broke and about to be fired from his menial job. Writer-director P.T. Anderson strikes a near flawless balance between looseness and structure, and indulges the occasional flight of cinematic fancy without undermining the movie's emotional integrity. He opens with a series of Believe It Or Not? oddities, setting up the movie's preoccupation with coincidence and off-kilter tone and slyly foreshadowing its bizarre climax. The virtuoso sequence in which he cuts to each character crooning a snippet of Aimee Mann's mournful "Wise Up," one picking up where the previous one leaves off, is a haunting metaphor for the connections that underlie their apparent isolation. But most important, Anderson gives his cast the room to deliver phenomenal performances; he even harnesses Tom Cruise's superstar presence, channeling it into the glossy, charismatic image of loathsome but pitiable Frank Mackey. Oh, and don't ignore the biblical citation (Exodus 8:2) that hovers around the edges of several scenes; it's not there for nothing.