Our four-part series on the films of Paul Thomas Anderson continues this week on Film Club, as A.A. Dowd and Katie Rife look back on what can be succinctly described as the second half of the first half of Anderson’s career. After the success of Boogie Nights, Anderson got a blank check for his next feature, the sprawling three-hour emotional rollercoaster Magnolia (1999). By comparison, the 94-minute Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is positively slight.
Join our critics as we sail this relatively choppy period in Anderson’s career, looking back on the early ‘00s wave of what we dub “we’re all connected” movies, the deep well of rage inside Adam Sandler characters, and whether Magnolia really deserves its reputation as a masterpiece.
You can hear the entire conversation in the episode above, or read a lightly edited excerpt down below.
A.A. Dowd: There is a prominent scene in [Magnolia] that, for a lot of people, is a make or break for this movie. Where the characters all non-diegetically sing along to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up.” This movie in general, I think, is too much, and I find some of its excesses to be a little bit embarrassing, to be honest. But that scene works for me.
Katie Rife: I think the excess of this movie is not used to as purposeful ends as in Boogie Nights. In Boogie Nights, [the excess] fits the content and the setting. Here, it doesn’t necessarily fit the stories that he’s telling here.
A.A. Dowd: You’re right. I think this is the work of somebody who very much set out to make a masterpiece. And you can see that sometimes with filmmakers who are sort of high on their own supply, so to speak. And Anderson was very, I mean, heavily rumored to have been literally high on his own supply. There are lots of stories about him being heavily into cocaine during this time in his life.
Katie Rife: You can kind of see it in some of the movie, especially all those scenes of Tom Cruise yelling. All those long Tom Cruise monologues, you can really tell that everybody is just loving the smell of their own farts that day. Everyone is just like, “Wow, what is this amazing smell?”
A.A. Dowd: I mean, last week you said that cocaine was the villain of Boogie Nights. I think, cocaine directed Magnolia.