We need a montage

It's driving me bugshit trying to figure out exactly why I enjoy BOOGIE NIGHTS so much, and yet, can't stand Paul Thomas' Anderson's next movie, MAGNOLIA.

I know what you're thinking, but it's not true. It's not just the sex.


It isn't.

See, I want to say that BOOGIE NIGHTS has likeable characters in it, where MAGNOLIA really doesn't. That notion kinda gets a quarter of the way up the flagpole for me, but, then, the pulley-wheel starts to squeak like a motherfucker and the pull rope starts to bind up on me and then the whole thing jams solid and just looking at it I know I'm going to need a chainsaw or a blowtorch to fix that mess, because... BOOGIE NIGHTS? Likeable characters? Point to them for me, please. Amber? Jack? Rollergirl? Reed Rothchild? Good ol' Dirk Diggler? Okay, maybe Little Bill, a little... and Buck and Jessie are cool, yes they are. Yet every character in this movie is such a goddam dimbulb, and I myself am such an elitist prick about the innate value of intelligence as a human attribute, that I still find it hard to admit to actually liking any of the slope browed, slack jawed dimbulbs in BOOGIE NIGHTS. I mean, you know, if by 'like' we mean, 'could even remotely tolerate hanging out with for longer than five minutes', then... noooooo. Nobody in BOOGIE NIGHTS remotely makes that list for me.

Still, maybe there's something to that. BOOGIE NIGHTS is populated wall to wall, floor to ceiling with amiable, affable fucktards. MAGNOLIA, on the other hand, seems to generally concern itself with characters who are at least somewhat mentally sharper than those in BOOGIE NIGHTS... yet nearly the entire cast of MAGNOLIA's characters (most of whom are played by the same talented actors as appear in BOOGIE NIGHTS) are unpleasant to the point of being repellent (at least, to me).

Maybe it's just that the overall tone of BOOGIE NIGHTS so successfully avoids moral judgment, while MAGNOLIA somehow seems stiff with it. BOOGIE NIGHTS seems to say, yeah, all these people are brainless oversexed bimbos with huge streaks of self destructiveness, but what the hell, they're pretty much harmless to everyone except themselves and they're fun to watch. These guys in MAGNOLIA, well, I don't know... somehow, where director Anderson seems to be gently chuckling over the antic misadventures of Dirk and Reed in BN, he seems to be rather more sharply disapproving of the narcissistic, cruel, or just degenerately desperate behavior on display in MAGNOLIA.

Or maybe I'm imagining all that.

I'd really like to say it's because BOOGIE NIGHTS has a central character who holds the narrative together through the force of his own often vacuous personality, while MAGNOLIA just walks the Earth like Caine in KUNG FU, often aimlessly and pointlessly. And that one got very nearly to the top of my personal flagpole until I realized that... whups... no, CRASH doesn't have any kind of central viewpoint character, either, and often seems to meander as much if not more than MAGNOLIA does. But I like CRASH and I don't like MAGNOLIA, so... why?

Hmmm. So I like BOOGIE NIGHTS, and I like CRASH, and I don't like MAGNOLIA.... it can't be anything as simple as Don Cheadle, can it?

Well, I like Don Cheadle...

BOOGIE NIGHTS had Luis Guzman in it, too. I really like Luis Guzman.

Maybe it's like that one section of PULP FICTION that ruins the whole movie for me... you know, the one where John Travolta takes Uma Thurman out to that really scary 50s themed restaurant and they end up at his drug dealer buddy's house jamming a hypo full of adrenaline directly into Uma's chest. I would enjoy PULP FICTION a great deal more, and perhaps even own a copy of the fucker, if that entire section of the movie just never existed. I mean, what's the point? Hey, look, that cool Rocky Dennis guy from MASK can play a shitbag if he wants to? Oh, and we've managed to make Roseanna Arquette visually repulsive, too, isn't that awesome? Nooooooo THANK you.

But the real reason I hate that entire subplot in PULP FICTION is that I just can't stand any of those characters, which is to say, I cannot even remotely empathize with a single fictional person portrayed in that entire lengthy section of the film. And you've got to work hard to create a male character who badly wants to ball Uma Thurman that I cannot empathize in any way with, but, well, it's not like John Travolta had to do all the heavy lifting there himself. Given how monstrously odious Uma's character in PULP FICTION is, well, it would have been more difficult for Travolta to make me actually empathize with someone who wanted to sleep with that abrasive cunt than otherwise.

I suspect I feel the same way about MAGNOLIA, especially as opposed to BOOGIE NIGHTS. Compare, for example, William H. Macy's character in each film. In the one, he's Little Bill, a cameraman on porn movies who has the misfortune to have married an x rated actress who constantly cheats on him, often in public with multiple partners. He's a miserably sad sack of a dude, a highly skilled tradesman at a sleazy, disrespectable trade, whose final frenzied act of despair actually makes you like him even more, despite the fact that it's a murder/suicide which signals the end of the movie's 'innocence'... for lack of a better word.

And then there's the character Macy gives us in MAGNOLIA, who is such an addled, incomprehensible emotional muddle I have no idea how to articulately describe him.

Both characters are losers, but the guy in BOOGIE NIGHTS is likeable with it, almost even loveable. You can dig him; you can honestly feel his pain. You can understand why he eventually grabs a gun and uses it; you may not approve, but you get what's going through his heart and his head, just prior to that final bullet.

The guy in MAGNOLIA, that poor crazy motherfucker who is robbing his ex-employer so he can get money for expensive dental appliances he doesn't need because he's in love with a bartender who has braces... I have no sympathy for that dude. Frankly, he freaks me out a little. If he went crazy with a hand gun and wound up blowing his brains out, well, it wouldn't make me like him, but I'd breathe a very deep sigh of relief, nonetheless.

So, in the end, I guess I would have to say that it does come down to the characters. The ones in BOOGIE NIGHTS I like despite their dumbass behavior, while the ones in MAGNOLIA I pretty much find bewildering, obnoxious, boring, or, on occasion, all three at once.

Hey, how about that. It wasn't just the sex, after all.

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