Being that it’s Father’s Day, dads are often portrayed poorly in the movies. I don’t know why, but I think it comes from the fact that mothers were often considered the homemakers while fathers were the breadwinners. As long as they provided a house and money for food and resources, their job was done.
Paul Thomas Anderson wrote Magnolia after Boogie Nights and most importantly after his own father, Ernie, who had been a radio and TV personality, passed away in February of 1997. What type of relationship did they have? Anderson named his own production company after a character Ernie would play called Ghoulardi, so I’m suspecting they may have had a good relationship. Anderson was heavily influenced by Robert Downey Sr., who later admitted that he was often abusing substance with his son, Robert Downey Jr., when he was still a young teenager.
Being the child of an entertainment personality can be difficult. And that’s the heart of Magnolia as we are presented with three fathers connected to the entertainment industry. Earl Patridge (Jason Robards, who himself had children go into entertainment) is a wealthy and famous TV producer who is almost near death from cancer. He hasn’t seen his son, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise in his best role ever), since he was a teenager when he left Frank, at 14, to care for his sick dying mother.
Earl has found a surrogate son in one his hospice nurses, Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who shows him love and tenderness he may or may not deserve. Earl has remarried a much younger wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), who originally married him to get his estate but has since grown to love him, so much she doesn’t want his money anymore. Is it because Earl is literally on his deathbed that Linda and Phil love him or has he realized the mistake he made and spent the last years trying to change?
Frank has become popular for his “Seduce and Destroy” videos and seminars where he spreads toxic masculinity to angry men wanting to use and abuse women sexually. But why is Frank this way? Shoudln’t he be angry at men? He hasn’t spoken to his father in years but treats women as objects and conquests. Yet, he should’ve been more sensitive as he was the only one to care for his mother when he died. It’s obvious he’s masking his true emotions through this character he plays and Cruise spends most of his role behaving like a man who loves to talk about himself and be the only one in the room who gets the spotlight. Anderson does this by focusing on Frank during a seminar as we only hear the men in the audience.
But after a woman reporter confronts him with the truth, he breaks down and turns angry toward her and even at his seminar, flipping over a table. But those in attendance just view it as more of his persona. Later when Phil has finally been able to contact him to come over, he does, but still refuses to show any sympathy at first, just bitterness, toward Earl. Then he breaks down and finally shows his emotions.
The other father is Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), a famous TV talk show host of a fictional game show What Do Kids Now that pits three young kids against three adults. Gator isn’t a good father. He is cheating on his wife, Rose (Melinda Dillon), and also estranged from his daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters). She is addicted to cocaine and lives her days in her apartment doing coke and willing to have sex with anyone who will supply her with coke.
Jimmy has just received news that he’s been diagnosed bone cancer and will probably die in a few months. When he attempts to contact Claudia after many years, they have a loud argument in which the neighbors call the police. A young Los Angeles Police Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) shows up. At first, Jim seems like a macho cop stereotype with his sunglasses and stauche. But when he sees Claudia, he’s immediately smitten with her. After talking with her for a while, he asks her out to dinner when his shift is over at 10 later that night. She agrees.
The fact that the two men Claudia unexpectantly encounters that day are named Jimmy and Jim is more than a matter of chance. Jim, like Phil, seems to be more sensitive of a character. He’s a divorcee and has gone through a dating service with no luck. He foolishly asks Claudia for a cup of coffee even though it’s bad because he wants to talk with her more. Jim sees himself as an officer who must give people a different chance depending on the situation.
This comes into play later in the movie when Jim encounters “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) trying to break into a furniture store. Donnie was on the show What Do Kids Know when he was a child and even though he was a celebrity then, he’s now a washout. He is fired from the furniture store earlier in the movie and wants to take some money out of the hidden safe so he can get braces to impress a young bartender at a bar he frequents. Jim lets Donnie return the money when he second guesses stealing it but doesn’t arrest him.
The third father is Rick Spector (Michael Bowen) an asipring actor whose tween son, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) is a constestant on the show What Do Kids Know. He’s also on his way to break the record, something Rick should be happy about. Instead, Rich browbeats and verbally abuses Stanley saying he’s going to make him late for an audition as he drives Stanley to school.
It’s obvious through Rick’s actions that he sees Stanley as a way to make money and use it as clout to get jobs. You can see traces of Kit Culkin or Jamie Spears in Rick. Despite being highly intelligent, Stanley is constantly bullied by his father and the other two child players who seem more or less to be on the team to make it official. Stanley seems to be the only kid who is always answering. However, during the taping, Stanley has to go to the restroom but a production assistant won’t let him since it’s a live broadcast causing him to accidentally urinate in his pants while on camera. And this affects his performance allowing the adults to score more than twice as much.
During the final round, even Jimmy shows him no sympathy, telling him to “get his butt” to the center stage. But since he’s soiled himself, he doesn’t want to as the live show ends it broadcast with the kids losing. But this is not before Jimmy shows signs his health is bad causing producer Burt Ramsey (Ricky Jay) to go to commercial quick. The loss causes Rick to throw a tantrum in the green room and throws a chair screaming, “Don’t do this to me!” Earlier during a break when the kids are behind, he goes on stage and physically assaults him. He’s a classic sign of an entertainment parent. I remember Brooke Shields saying she would see parents hitting and beating their children in full view of everyone for losing an audition or not being hired for modeling.
Will Stanley end up like Donnie, unable to get pass a childhood experience? As Donnie tells people in the bar, it has left him traumatized with the way Jimmy would mock him on ther air for knowing too much information. Is Jimmy a good person? We don’t really know. Rose loves him and when he has a health issue, she’s by his side at home. That is until she keeps insisting Jimmy tell her why Rose is mad at him. Finally, Jimmy says that Claudia thinks he molested her and Jimmy, who has become a functioning alcoholic, says he’s not sure. But we can presume that he probably did and is trying to forget it.
At their dinner date, Claudia sees Jim is really interested in her and Claudia may like Jim. However she’s afraid her past might cause problems and she leaves him taking a cab back home. Later he shows up at her apartment and tells her he wants to make their relationship work and believes it will.
Almost all the events happen over the course of a wet, rainy day in the San Fernando Valley area and as night falls, so do a bunch of frogs from the sky. Some people have criticized this ending but it refers to Exodus 8:2 “If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs across your entire land.” It’s not uncommon for marine life and amphibians to get brushed up in a storm front and fall on land. This past week, sand dust from the Sahara travel thousands of miles to North America and made things hazy.
There is a vignette at the beginning referencing an urban legend where Patton Oswalt plays a Reno, Nev. blackjack dealer who goes scuba-dive and is scooped up by a plane and dumped over a wildfire and dies of a heart attack. If we’re to believe this can happen, even though it hasn’t, why not marine life. The pilot of the plane was a gambler who lost at the same table the dealer was working earlier that week.
Another vignette refers to an fake criminal case in which a teen attempted to commit suicide by falling nine stories off an apartment building. But as he passes by the window of the apartment he lived, he’s accidentally shot by his mother who was threatening her husband with a shotgun she thought was empty. The young man died by the shotgun blast but he would’ve survived the fall as a net had been installed on the ground for window washers. The young man also loaded the shotgun days earlier hoping his parents would kill themselves during arguing so he was named an accomplice in his own murder.
What we see later in the movie is parents, mainly fathers, and how they treated their children and the lasting effects. Frank has incorrectly channeled his rage for his father toward women and Claudia has turned to drugs to block out the trauma. How is Stanley, who is present as a meek child, going to turn out? He runs away from the studio and goes to a library for comfort. The next morning, he finally returns home and tells his half-awake father that Rick should treat him better. But all Rick says is for Stanley to go to bed.
Will Rick treat Stanley better? Will Jim and Claudia make it as a couple? The movie doesn’t really end with an uplifting ending but it does seem to emphasize the storm that was over the area the day before has been lifted. Earl dies and Linda nearly dies of a drug overdose. Jimmy’s fate is left unknown as he attempts to shoot himself but frogs fall through the skylight knocking him unconscious.
Magnolia wasn’t a well liked movie when it was released. People were notorious for walking out of the theaters. Filmmaker Kevin Smith hated it so much that he mocked the fans in his movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. At three hours and eight minutes, it’s very long and the first two hours seem to be building up intensely as the characters deal with their problems. I’m sure the sequence with the frogs probably angered some fans who were expecting a resolution.
The end of Boogie Nights seemed to tie everything together. But sometimes, movies don’t tie everything together. We’re left to make our own conclusions sometimes. Phil is saddened by the death of Earl, but he was able to bring Frank to him for his last few moments. We last see him cleaning up as he leaves his shift and the house on to another patient. Jim not only lets Donnie go, but he also helps pull him under a gas station canopy as the frogs fall on him causes Donnie to fall down, knocking out his front teeth on the pavement. Later, Jim becomes the ear that Donnie needs when he lets out his need to love and be loved.
Boogie Nights explored years of characters through their few ups and way down low moments. In Magnolia, we only get 24 hours roughly. But yet, we feel like we know them just as much. Frank, himself, is told of Linda being admitted at the hospital and goes to the hospital to be with her, signaling that he may dump the whole routine. As Jay, who also narrates the movie says, “I’d like to think it’s more than a matter of chance.”
What do you think? Please comment.