They would probably tell you that the scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (2000) where a large portion of the ensemble cast sing along to Aimee Mann’s ‘Wise Up’ is ridiculous.
They would look at you with their dark, soulless eyes and say that there is never an acceptable time to present a series of isolated characters diegetically singing lines of non-diegetic score. Then, as they wipe the gleeful drool from their mouths, they’d say that the convention of accompanying miserable characters with miserable music is trite enough, but actually having them sing the dialogue themselves is really taking the biscuit.
As they alternate between smirks and snarls with their eyes wrinkled into crow’s feet at the corners, like a serpentine clique, they would say that ‘Wise Up’ isn’t even a very good tune. “The song is sentimental and dull” they would say, “the vocals could be sung by anybody”. They would laugh a harsh menacing laugh as they joke about how its lyrical theme of changing to improve has become so overdone that it should probably take a lesson from itself.
You’d try to smile but they would push you to the ground.
As the rain-saturated mud soaks into your back, they would tell you that “Magnolia” is nothing but a pretentious mis-fire. You’d stare up at them, clad in their robes holding long curled-up scrolls, and one would repeatedly punch you in the gut, claiming that each punch represented a moment in the film where one of the cast over-acted horribly. “Let’s go back to the monastery, he won’t be watching that any time soon,” you’d hear them say.
But don’t listen to them.
Magnolia is a fantastic film, and in this particular man’s opinion it represents Paul Thomas Anderson’s finest three hours. While Boogie Nights had the charm, There Will Be Blood had the authenticity, and Punch Drunk Love had the quirkiness, Magnolia defines cinematic indulgence, and, in a film that follows a steady series of emotional waves, this particular scene represents the highest crest.
Yes, having characters singing may be considered a little cheesy by some, but by the time it occurs, the film has desensitised you to bombast and obtuseness in such a way, it seems rather regular. I, for one, think that’s a good thing. Magnolia is a film that could turn even the most hardened cynic, and the ‘Wise Up’ scene is the paragon of this.
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