Magnolia came out 20 years ago and solidified Paul Thomas Anderson as one of our most important filmmakers. Now you can read and download the script PDF to learn something yourself.
I saw Magnolia for the first time when I was in high school. I never got to see it in a theater; I saw it on my laptop, and even there I was completely entranced. I still haven't seen it on any screen bigger than 55 inches, but no matter when or how I watch it, I get transported to a magical place.
I moved to Hollywood in 2012 and lived on Magnolia in the valley. I picked my apartment based on the movie.
It was a mediocre place to live, but nothing could sully my respect or love of the movie.
I figured the best way to talk about Magnolia was to start with the script and work my way up.
So let's get into it.
Magnolia is a beautiful film. It's about life, perseverance, and reconciling with the past. As a musical montage that occurs halfway through the masterpiece goes, “It’s not going to stop ’til you wise up.”
But let's not skip ahead. The movie opens like gangbusters, giving us a treatise on emotion, happenstance, and coincidence.
The movie sets its theme right from the start.
This is a movie about strange things happening.
Once we accept that...we've accepted the story.
There are so many legends about the movie. The missing 6-hour cut, the Orlando Jones performance as the drug dealer not in the movie, the other storylines that never get their moment to shine...but what makes Magnolia one of the best movies of all time are the characters we do see.
Aside from the world pulling them all together, each person is given a distinct goal.
All those goals are thematically similar.
Everyone wants a connection.
And the meta form of those connections...connects them.
Our cop needs a girlfriend.
The woman he falls for is seeking the wrong kinds of connections.
Her father is a game show host running away from his past deeds and connections.
The kid currently on his show wants to connect with his Dad.
The kid formerly on his show needs to connect with an honest human.
The seduction artist is showing men how to get women because his mother died and he has no relationship with his dad, who's trying to connect with him. After his trophy wife realizes she has no way to keep her one connection alive.
And their nurse tries to hold it together by making the connecting phone calls.
Did I miss anyone?
Oh, the rapping kid who needs to connect with a mentor because society has left him behind?
Magnolia's 'Simple' Plot
The reason this movie work so perfectly is that the plot is so simple...and that's how it's woven to be complicated. Everyone has a clear goal. Each goal creates stakes, obstacles, and a lot of the choices they make are plant and payoffs for later.
When you're writing a story, the best thing you can do is give each of your characters a clear goal.
Take Frank "TJ" Mackey's goal.
Tom Cruise expertly plays this pickup artist whose goal is to be anyone but his true self. Inside, he's always getting back at his dad. As time moves on, his clear goal is to impress his interviewer.
Frank is marred by failure.
He fails at repressing who he is, he fails at impressing his interviewer, and in the end, he fails at hating his father when he's reunited with him.
You can see that the obstacles are clear, they create drama as we go.
That drama reveals the inner character, and so on.
In this movie, it's not always about characters succeeding, but how their failures wind up revealing the true depth. That's not complicated, it's simple, but it makes for an intricate narrative woven to perfection.
Want More Magnolia? Check Out the Documentary on the Movie!
I could wax about the movie all day—and I might because being locked inside proves there's not much to do but write movies... or just watch them.
So if you really want to dive deep on a subject, watch this behind the scenes doc on the movie and let me know what you think in the comments.
What's next? Check Out There Will Be Blood!
There's more than milkshakes to this story. Let's dissect the There Will Be Blood script PDF together...