I don’t really care when a critic savages a movie I love. Critics are paid to write about film and be interesting. As Anton Ego says in Ratatouille, negative reviews are fun to write. Magnolia, however, is the source of the worst negative review I’ve ever read.
My issue with the review (which you can read here) is not that City Pages critic Rob Nelson hated the movie. That’s totally fine. He has the right to hate the movie and it is his job to tell people what the thought.
My biggest issue was that the review, at least in its reference to the character played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is completely misleading. He refers to Hoffman’s character as nurse who “who nervously orders porno mags for home delivery.”
While this statement is true, the statement’s implication of why he is doing this is far different from his actual motivation. We read that line and we conclude that he is probably ordering these magazines for his own personal use. We are given the impression he is some sort of pervert who is reading porn and jerking off while a man lies dying nearby. He clearly doesn’t give a shit about his patient and cares only about his own sexual gratification. Maybe he’s a closeted gay necrophiliac or something.
In fact, Hoffman’s character is the kindest and most compassionate person in the entire film. He treats his dying patient with care and respect and when he is asked to do that patient a favor, he goes far beyond his charge as a nurse.
He orders those magazines as a way to help him search for a man’s estranged son. That is what the review carefully doesn’t tell you.