(Part 15 of an ongoing series)
And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just “Something That Happened…”
Narrator (Ricky Jay)
This happens. This is something that happens.
Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman)
Surprisingly, the movies of 1999 weren’t extraordinarily apocalyptic. (In subtext, maybe, but not overtly.) There was the Biblical Schwarzenegger vehicle End Of Days, and The Matrix briefly flashed-back to its Robot Armageddon. But after years of Independence Days and Deep Impacts, Hollywood was pretty much burned out on catastrophe as the millennium turned.
Not PT Anderson, though. Magnolia is no asteroid blockbuster, but it does boast Anderson playing God with Old Testament audacity, raining down his Frogpocalypse (Afrogalypse?) to punish the sinners and redeem the saints. And considering how much time Magnolia spends masturbating with coke sprinkled on its dick-tip, it’s not nearly the fiasco-tastic ego-trip it could’ve been. Like, do we really need a 5-minute intro showing us three eerie coincidences from real life (Spoiler: they’re not really from real life) in order to suspend our disbelief about the eerie coincidences during the remaining three hours? No, we absolutely don’t- especially if we’re still on board once the frogs start falling- but it’s an engrossing sequence anyway.
Do we also need two old men (Jason Robards, Philip Baker Hall) who worked in TV, cheated on their wives, traumatized their children, and are now dying of cancer? It’s a little, as they say on Project Runway, “matchy-matchy.” Anderson could’ve combined both characters and we’d still get the message loud and clear: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad“. But Robards and Hall are both great as usual, so who’s to complain if they get to toss out a little award bait?
Of course if I had to choose just one, I’d give Robards all the dying asshole scenes. The fact that he’s actually dying (really, in real life) injects an uncanny energy into the film. Like a dying man, Magnolia is terrified and fearless, infected with frighteningly bold vulnerability. How else could it pull off an Aimee Mann sing-along from right outta nowhere?