Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Magnolia Movie Poster Image
Drugs, sex, language in '90s drama about child abuse.
  • R
  • 1999
  • 188 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Adults neglect and abuse -- emotionally, financially, and sexually -- children, who suffer both as children and when they become adults.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A man damaged in childhood by his selfish father takes out all his childhood rage and hostility against women. A man mistreated by his parents can't move on from that hatred, drinks too much, commits a robbery. A child robs but also saves an unconscious woman who has attempted suicide. A woman admits she married her husband for his money and now that he's dying tries to kill herself. A police officer tries to help people.


Two men are dying of cancer. The painful death by cancer of a woman is described. A man advocates that men trick women into sex by pretending to be nice. Someone shoots at a cop. A woman tries to commit suicide. A man shoots himself in the head. Blood is seen. A man commits a robbery, then feels guilty and unsuccessfully goes back to return the money. A strange weather occurrence causes many bloody traffic accidents.


A central character teaches a course called "Seduce and Destroy," instructing groups of downtrodden men on how to persuade women to have sex with them by pretending to be nice. A man has an erection in his underwear. Breasts are viewed briefly through a blurred shower door. A man looks at a pornographic magazine, and a brief view of female nudity is seen. A married man is seen having clothed sex with a woman who isn't his wife.  


"F--k" (more than 100 times), "s--t," "ass," "c--ksucker," "d--k," "t-ts," "c--t," "bitch," "whore," "slut." Kids use some of the above-mentioned language.



A long-running TV quiz show that exploits children and their intelligence is at the heart of the movie.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An alcoholic drinks too much. Adults drink at a bar. An addict snorts cocaine. A dying man is given morphine. Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Magnolia is a 1999 drama that runs more than three hours and addresses the never-ending consequences of child abuse. Adults who were either emotionally, financially, or sexually abused as children muddle through drug- and alcohol-addled lives, unable to connect or, in some case, function. One becomes successful by offering popular seminars on how to "seduce and destroy" women, seemingly waging a war on women even though it turns out his father was the one who damaged him. Death and dying are prominent themes, and two men are seen dying of cancer. One woman attempts suicide by overdose, and a man shoots himself. A man has an erection in his underwear. Breasts are viewed briefly through a blurred shower door. A man looks at a pornographic magazine, and a brief view of female nudity is seen. Drug use, sexual situations, intense and repeated use of profanity, including the word "f--k" (more than 100 times), make this an iffy choice for all but the most mature teens. Spoiler alert: Thousands of frogs fall out of the air, causing slippery, bloody, traffic accidents and generally creeping everyone out. Amphibian-phobics be warned.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bylogladyland November 23, 2020
Adult Written byLNMary2018 September 30, 2018

Might be the best film in the world. Great story for teaching on morals and relationships

Might be the best film in the world for teaching on morals and relationships in my opinion. There are at least two characters that are great role models, the p... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byDojimaKojima January 30, 2021

One of my Favourite movies

TL;DR This is one of the most powerful movies i have ever watched. It may be a little too long for some people, it's 3 hours long, but its worth it.

Magn... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bydantheman2988 May 23, 2020

Powerful, awe-inspiring lengthy masterpiece.

This is one of Paul Thomas Anderson's best films, up there with There Will Be Blood.

To the parents:

When it comes to positive role models,... Continue reading

What's the story?

MAGNOLIA is a braid of twisted and intertwined mini-plots that generally address the lasting effects on individuals and society of the abuse of children. A boy (Jeremy Blackman) has a run on a kid TV quiz show; he is treated like a commodity by both his self-absorbed actor-wannabe father and by the producers of the show. A man in his 40s who drinks too much (William H. Macy) is fired from his job, a position he only got because he is a former children's quiz show star. He complains his parents stole all the money he won on the show and he's bitter for the rest of his life because of that unfairness. A self-aggrandizing, crude, and boastful author and celebrity lecturer (Tom Cruise) instructs hotel ballrooms full of frustrated men on how to seduce women, whether the women want to be seduced or not. It turns out that while his mother was dying of cancer, he was abandoned by his insensitive father, the quiz show's producer (Jason Robards), who is now himself dying painfully of cancer. His empathetic nurse (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) struggles to get in touch with the estranged son before the dad dies, which leads to a volcanic expression of pent-up hatred. Also dying is the 30-year host of the quiz show (Phillip Baker Hall), who is trying vainly to make amends with his unforgiving, estranged, drug-abusing daughter (Malora Walters), whom he may or may not have sexually abused. References to Exodus 8:2 (remember the 10 plagues?) abound, and representations of magnolias are also noteworthy.   

Is it any good?

Given the complexity and ambition of this film, the 28-year-old Paul Thomas Anderson certainly displayed brilliance and talent in the writing and direction of it. That said, Magnolia remains a highly flawed yet intense piece that contains over-long, nearly unwatchable sequences of great actors doing their best with forced and often ridiculous plotting. Anderson himself admitted 16 years after the release that it was too long, and that bagginess may chase away viewers who could otherwise enjoy good performances and benefit from the film's general warning that cruelty to and neglect of children is an ongoing problem with far-reaching consequences that we all must deal with.

Especially trying, and unbelievable, are the ravings of a drug-addled wife who married her husband for money but has fallen in love with him now that he's dying. The tribulations of a sweet, humiliated kid on a live game show are also wrenching. And it's far-fetched to think a man of high intelligence with normal teeth would believe his love life would improve if he could only afford braces. The tribulations of an overbearing but kindly cop feel completely dispensable. If Anderson one day cuts this down by a good hour, it will probably allow what is best in the film to be far more affecting and accessible.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about different kinds of child abuse. Do you think the ultimate psychological damage done by neglect is different from that caused by emotional abuse? Is constant belittling abuse? How do all these differ from physical or sexual abuse? Do you think children can recover from these forms of abuse?

  • Magnolia asks viewers to see some drug abuse and alcoholism as the result of pain inflicted during childhood, and thus for all of us to view those with substance problems less harshly. Do you think all substance abuse can be traced to parental errors? Do some substance abusers come from loving and supportive homes?

  • Do you think that putting kids on TV shows that make money for adults is a form of child abuse? Why or why not? How do you think such shows could be monitored to ensure the safety of children who are featured?

Movie details

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