Boogie Nights was not a box office success but the critical adulation and Oscar nominations for Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds, along with a best screenplay nomination for Anderson had been brought attention and acclaim to the mid-20s Anderson. Michael De Luca, who was head of production at New Line Cinema, advocated for Anderson and gave him a blind deal and total creative control from script to trailers and posters, all without even hearing a single idea from Anderson about what he would do next.
What Anderson delivered his script to De Luca’s home one Sunday was a sprawling opus spanning many different storylines, characters, part Aimee Mann musical and featured frogs falling from the sky. De Luca was blown away but asked if the film could come in at the 2hours 45minutes mark, Anderson immediately said no. This was the type of creative control and support that Anderson had been seeking since the production clashes that resulted in a butchered studio cut with his feature film, Sidney, according to Anderson: ”It was the most painful experience I’ve ever gone through.”
At over three hours long, Magnolia builds upon the traits Anderson exhibited in Boogie Nights, award worthy acting performances, long takes and sprawling storylines. Released in 1999, the key themes of the damage done by Los Angeles based patriarchal figures to their children feels urgent and incredibly relevant in 2018. Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) a gameshow host and Hollywood producer, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), both ageing white men nearing their deaths due to an incurable cancer.
For all the countless characters and storylines, they all ultimately connect through these dying men whose toxic behaviour has involved abandoning a son and wife, child abuse and deception. That both these elderly characters are both dying from cancer is no accident. The consequences of those behaviours are evident in the lives of their offspring, Gator’s abused daughter, Claudia, uses cocaine and prostitutes herself, broken and lacking in any self-belief while Partridge’s son, is a fraud who promotes a self-help guide that treats women like pray to be manipulated or seduced.
Partridge’s son played by Tom Cruise continues the cycle of toxic masculinity that has left lives broken, Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackey struts around on stage in an over the top performance as he continues to shout, “respect the cock” and “tame the cunt” catchphrases. Mackey’s program’ Seduce and Destroy’ is marketed and performed to white men, losers and want to turn those female friends or those who dismiss them as lovers into pray.
Mackey sits with an African American reporter who with ease begins to dismantle the bravado, lies and outlandish claims that he makes his living from and a few enquiring questions reduces Mackey to petulant child who withdraws. Mackey’s name and biography, he’s created from university to family life is all lies, Mackey as a young teenager cared for his stricken mother after the divorce but was so embarrassed he lied about it, he can’t be seen as a caring and broken man. Mackey thrives on his performance which sees him acting out sexual antics and spewing misogynist nonsense to an audience that laps it up. Mackey is on the secret that these male losers are easy targets to milk for their money for his videos and seminars.
Mackey isn’t the only pathetic white male in Magnolia, William H. Macy’s Donnie Smith a former quiz kid winner but he lost his $100,000 prize when his parents took it from him. Now he sits scheming how to get money to get braces that he does not need to attract the attention of a barman, who also wears braces. As Smith tries to get money from his employers to fund this vanity operation, he’s greeted with mockery and his countless failed ideas are laid bare in a humiliating manner. Officer Jim Kurring, a kind at heart police officer, who is trying to adapt to life after divorce and uses telephone dating lines and tries to pick up a clearly damaged and upset young woman while on the beat. Kurring listens to a young black rapper who tells him through rap who committed a crime that he’s investigating, however he cannot pick up the clues as dismisses him as someone looking to hustle him. Partridge’s carer, Phil played by the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman while ordering supplies orders several copies of pornographic magazines like Playboy and Hustler, he is looking to masturbate while a man in his care and on his deathbed in the other room.
Magnolia’s toxic, flawed, sexually abusive and deceptive male characters living in Los Angeles all seem pulled from the headlines of the #MeToo campaigns and headlines that shock and disgust on an almost daily basis. The fallout from the three-hour epic that Paul Thomas Anderson presents is not all wrapped up and we are left to wonder where our characters go from here and even in death, what the consequences of that will be. The amount of men that are broken, fall and are exposed as their toxic masculinity comes home to roost but we are left with hope at the end. That when this film ends, many of these men have their reputations ruined or they now have no choice but to build themselves up but only one character has found hope, Claudia. With her dying father Jimmy exposed to his wife as a child abuser, she is reunited with her mother, Kurring who despite his flaws is there for her and the toxic atmosphere that has ruined almost her entire life is starting to life, she can finally smile, there might be a better day.