Magnolia Information

Magnolia is a 1999 American drama film written, produced, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, narrated by Ricky Jay, and starring Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, and Jason Robards in his last feature film appearance. The film is a mosaic of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning in the San Fernando Valley.

Magnolia was a critical success. Of the ensemble cast, Tom Cruise was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 72nd Academy Awards, and won the award in the same category at the Golden Globes of 2000. Anderson has stated, "I really feel... That Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I'll ever make."


The film opens with a narrator asking to consider the meaning of three urban legends and the role of chance in life.

Police officer Jim Kurring is sent to investigate a disturbance and finds a body but is unable to apprehend a suspect, despite the fact that a neighborhood boy tries to tell him (by rapping) who committed the murder. From there Jim goes to Claudia Wilson's apartment, where the neighbors complained of her loud music after she rejected her dying father's attempt at reconciliation. Claudia is a cocaine addict, and her father is famous children's game show host Jimmy Gator. Jim likes her and prolongs the visit, and talks her into a date before he leaves.

That night the newest child prodigy on Jimmy Gator's show, Stanley Spector, takes the lead as the show begins. He is hounded by his father for the prize money and demeaned by the surrounding adults, who refuse to let him use the bathroom during a commercial break. When the show resumes, he wets himself and freezes, humiliated when everyone realizes what happened. As the show continues Jimmy sickens, and he orders the show to go on after he collapses onstage. But after Stanley's father berates him for freezing on air, Stanley refuses to return for the final round.

Donnie Smith, a former "What Do Kids Know?" champion, watches the show from a bar. Donnie is obsessed with getting oral surgery, thinking he will land the man of his dreams after he gets braces, and he becomes despondent when he is fired. He hatches a plan to get back at his boss by breaking in and stealing the money he needs for his braces.

The show's former producer Earl Partridge is dying of cancer. Earl's trophy wife, Linda, collects his prescriptions for morphine while he is cared for by a nurse, Phil Parma. Earl asks Phil to find his estranged son, Frank Mackey, a narcissist who is peddling a pick-up artist self-help course to men. Frank is in the midst of an interview when Phil finally gets through to him.

Linda goes to see Earl's lawyer, begging him to change Earl's will. She admits she married Earl for his money, but now loves him and doesn't want it. The lawyer suggests she renounce the will and refuse the money, which would then go to Frank. Linda rejects his advice and leaves in a rage. When she gets home Linda berates Phil for seeking out Frank, but later apologizes, before going out to her car and taking all the pills she's collected. The boy who tried to help Jim catch the murderer finds Linda in her car, near death, and calls an ambulance after taking money from her purse.

Before his date with Claudia, Jim takes fire during a pursuit and loses his gun. When he meets Claudia they promise to be honest with each other, so he confesses his ineptitude as a cop and admits he has not been on a date since he was divorced three years ago. Claudia says he will hate her because of her problems, but Jim assures her they don't matter. They kiss, but she runs off.

Jimmy Gator goes home to his wife Rose and suddenly tells her he cheated on her. She asks why Claudia does not talk to him, and Jimmy admits that Claudia believes he molested her. But when he says he cannot remember whether or not he did, Rose tells Jimmy he deserves to die alone, and she walks out on him. Jimmy decides to kill himself.

Meanwhile Donnie lets himself into his old office but his key breaks in the lock. As he drives away with the money, he realizes the foolishness of what he is doing and goes back but can't get in because of the broken key. Jim is driving by as Donnie climbs up a utility pole to get in through the roof and stops the car to see what he is doing. Suddenly, they are all in the midst of a raining animal event, with frogs falling from the sky. As Jimmy is about to shoot himself, frogs fall through his skylight, causing him to shoot the TV instead and set the house on fire. Rose crashes her car en route to Claudia's apartment. Earl dies as Frank watches. Donnie is knocked from the pole and smashes his teeth, while Jim's gun falls from the sky and lands in front of him. As the rain of frogs ceases, Rose and Claudia are reconciled.

After Jim helps Donnie replace the money, he goes to see Claudia, telling her he wants to make things work between them; she smiles in reply. Frank goes to visit Linda, who is recovering in the hospital. Stanley, on his way to bed, tells his father that he needs to be nicer to him.

The narrator reminds us to consider once more the coincidences from the stories at the beginning of the film.


Main characters
Other characters


Paul Thomas Anderson started to get ideas for Magnolia during the long editing period of Boogie Nights (1997). As he got closer to finishing the film, he started writing down material for his new project After the critical and financial success of Boogie Nights, New Line Cinema, who backed that film, told Anderson that he could do whatever he wanted and the filmmaker realized that, "I was in a position I will never ever be in again". Michael De Luca, then Head of Production at New Line, made the deal for Magnolia, granting Anderson final cut without hearing an idea for the film. Originally, Anderson had wanted to make a film that was "intimate and small-scale", something that he could shoot in 30 days. He had the title of "Magnolia" in his head before he wrote the script. As he started writing, the script "kept blossoming" and he realized that there were many actors he wanted to write for and then decided to put "an epic spin on topics that don't necessarily get the epic treatment". He wanted to "make the epic, the all-time great San Fernando Valley movie". Anderson started with lists of images, words and ideas that "start resolving themselves into sequences and shots and dialogue", actors, and music. The first image he had for the film was the smiling face of actress Melora Walters. The next image that came to him was of Philip Baker Hall as her father. Anderson imagined Hall walking up the steps of Walters' apartment and having an intense confrontation with her. Anderson also did research on the magnolia tree and discovered a concept that eating the tree's bark helped cure cancer.


By the time he started writing the script he was listening to Aimee Mann's music. Anderson used her two solo albums and some demo tracks from a new album that Mann was working on as a basis and inspiration for the film.

In particular, Mann's song "Deathly", on her album Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo, inspired the character of Claudia. At one point in the movie, Claudia uses part of the lyric as dialogue in the film ("Now that I've met you/Would you object to/Never seeing each other again").

The character of Jim Kurring originated in the summer of 1998 when actor John C. Reilly grew a mustache out of interest and started putting together an unintelligent cop character. He and Anderson did a few parodies of COPS with the director chasing Reilly around the streets with a video camera. Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh made an appearance in one of these videos. Some of Kurring's dialogue came from these sessions. This time around, Reilly wanted to do something different and told Anderson that he was "always cast as these heavies or these semi-retarded child men. Can't you give me something I can relate to, like falling in love with a girl?" Anderson also wanted to make Reilly a romantic lead because it was something different that the actor had not done before.

For Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anderson wanted him to play a "really simple, uncomplicated, caring character". The actor described his character as someone who "really takes pride in the fact that every day he's dealing with life and death circumstances". With Julianne Moore in mind, the director wrote a role for her to play a crazed character using many pharmaceuticals. According to the actress, "Linda doesn't know who she is or what she's feeling and can only try to explain it in the most vulgar terms possible". For William H. Macy, Anderson felt that the actor was scared of big, emotional parts and wrote for him, "a big tearful, emotional part".

While convincing Philip Baker Hall to do the film by explaining the significance of the rain of frogs, the actor told him a story about when he was in the mountains of Italy and got caught in bad weather — a mix of rain, snow and tiny frogs. Hall had to pull off the road until the storm passed. According to an interview, Hall said that he based the character of Jimmy Gator on real-life TV personalities such as Bob Barker, Alistair Beck, and Arthur Godfrey. The rain of frogs was inspired by the works of Charles Fort and Anderson claims that he was unaware that it was also a reference in The Bible when he first wrote the sequence. At the time the filmmaker came across the notion of a rain of frogs, he was "going through a weird, personal time", and he started to understand "why people turn to religion in times of trouble, and maybe my form of finding religion was reading about rains of frogs and realizing that makes sense to me somehow".


Tom Cruise was a fan of Anderson's previous film, Boogie Nights, and contacted the filmmaker while he was working on Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Anderson met with Cruise on the set of Kubrick's film and the actor told him to keep him in mind for his next film. After Anderson finished the script, he sent Cruise a copy and the next day, the actor called him. Cruise was interested but nervous about the role. They met with Cruise along with De Luca who helped convince the actor to do the film. Frank T.J. Mackey, the character that Cruise would play in the film, was based in part on an audio-recording done in an engineering class taught by a friend that was given to Anderson. It consisted of two men, "talking all this trash" about women and quoting a man named Ross Jeffries, who was teaching a new version of the Eric Weber course, "How to Pick Up Women," but utilizing hypnotism and subliminal language techniques. Anderson transcribed the tape and did a reading with Reilly and Chris Penn. The director then incorporated this dialogue and his research on Jeffries and other self-help gurus into Mackey and his sex seminar. Anderson felt that Cruise was drawn to the role because he had just finished making Eyes Wide Shut, playing a repressed character, and was able to then play a character that was "outlandish and bigger-than-life".

Anderson wrote the role of Earl Partridge for Jason Robards but he was initially unable to do it because of a serious staph infection. Anderson approached George C. Scott, who turned him down. Eventually, Robards was able to do the film. Robards said of his character, "It was sort of prophetic that I be asked to play a guy going out in life. It was just so right for me to do this and bring what I know to it". According to Hall, much of the material with Partridge was based on Anderson watching his father die of cancer.

Several of the cast from Boogie Nights return in Magnolia. As well as the major characters played by Hall, Hoffman, Macy, Moore, Reilly and Walters, there are cameo performances from Alfred Molina as 'Quiz Kid' Donnie Smith's employer Solomon Solomon, Luis Guzmán as Luis, one of the adult contestants on "What Do Kids Know?", and Ricky Jay, who also doubles as narrator, as the television executive Burt Ramsey.


Before Anderson became a filmmaker, one of the jobs he had was as an assistant for a television game show, Quiz Kid Challenge, an experience he incorporated into the script for Magnolia. He also claimed in interviews that the film is structured somewhat like "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles, and "it kind of builds up, note by note, then drops or recedes, then builds again". The production designers looked at films with close, tight color palettes, films that were warm and analyzed why they did that and then applied it to Magnolia. They also wanted to evoke the colors of the magnolia flower: greens, browns and off-whites. For the section of the prologue that is set in 1911, Anderson used a hand-cranked pathé camera that would have been used at the time. Some of the actors were nervous about singing the lyrics to Mann's "Wise Up" in the film's climactic scene and so Anderson had Moore do it first and she set the pace and everyone else followed.

Anderson and New Line reportedly had intense arguments about how to market Magnolia. He felt that the studio did not do a decent enough job on Boogie Nights and did not like the studio's poster or trailer for Magnolia. Anderson ended up designing his own poster, cut together a trailer himself, wrote the liner notes for the soundtrack album, and pushed to avoid hyping Cruise's presence in the film in favor of the ensemble cast. Even though Anderson ultimately got his way, he realized that he had to "learn to fight without being a jerk. I was a bit of a baby. At the first moment of conflict, I behaved in a slightly adolescent knee-jerk way. I just screamed." In a Rolling Stone article, published around the time of Magnolia's release, Anderson said that he walked out of Fight Club after the first half hour and criticized its director, David Fincher, for making jokes about cancer, saying that he should get it as punishment. Afterwards, Anderson wrote Fincher a note apologizing and explained that he had lost his sense of humor about cancer.

Music and soundtracks

Main article: Magnolia (soundtrack)
Anderson met Aimee Mann in 1996 when he asked her husband, Michael Penn, to write songs for his film, Hard Eight. Mann had songs on soundtracks before but never "utilized in such an integral way" she said in an interview. She gave Anderson rough mixes of songs and found that they both wrote about the same kinds of characters. He encouraged her to write songs for the film by sending her a copy of the script.

Two songs were written expressly for the film: "You Do," which was based on a character later cut from the film, and "Save Me," which closes the film; the latter was nominated in the 2000 Academy Awards and Golden Globes and in the 2001 Grammys. Most of the remaining seven Mann songs were demos and works in progress; "Wise Up," which is at the center of a sequence in which all of the characters sing the song, was originally written for the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. At the time Mann's record label had refused to release her songs on an album. The song that plays at the opening of the film is Mann's cover of "One" by Harry Nilsson. Mann's track "Momentum" is used as the loud playing music in Claudia's apartment scene when Officer Jim arrives and was also featured in the trailer for the film.

Anderson produced a music video for "Save Me" that featured Mann in the background of what appeared to be scenes from the film, singing to characters. Unlike in many such music videos, there was no digital manipulation involved; the video was shot at the end of filming days with Mann and actors who were asked to stay in place. The video, which contains exactly seven cuts, won the Best Editing award at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards and was nominated for Best Music Video from a Film.

The soundtrack album, released in December 1999 on Reprise Records, features the Mann songs, as well as a section of Jon Brion's score and tracks by Supertramp and Gabrielle that were used in the film. Reprise released a full score album in March 2000.

The film also features the famous Habanera from the opera Carmen and the opening from Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, the latter of which plays over the deathbed of Earl Partridge and introduces his son Frank Mackey on stage.


Magnolia initially opened in a limited release on December 17, 1999, in seven theaters grossing USD$193,604. The film was given a wide release on January 7, 2000, in 1,034 theaters grossing $5.7 million on its opening weekend. It eventually grossed $22,455,976 in North America and $25,995,827 in the rest of the world with a worldwide tally of $48,451,803, above its budget of $37 million.

While Magnolia struggled at the box office, it was well-received critically. As of 2011 it has an 83% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 114 "fresh" reviews out of 138. USA Today gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "the most imperfect of the year's best movies". In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert praised the film, saying: "Magnolia is the kind of film I instinctively respond to. Leave logic at the door. Do not expect subdued taste and restraint, but instead a kind of operatic ecstasy". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B+" rating, praising Cruise's performance: "It's with Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey, a slick televangelist of penis power, that the filmmaker scores his biggest success, as the actor exorcises the uptight fastidiousness of Eyes Wide Shut ... Like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, this cautiously packaged movie star is liberated by risky business". The Independent said that the film was "limitless. And yet some things do feel incomplete, brushed-upon, tangential. Magnolia does not have the last word on anything. But is superb". Kenneth Turan, in his review for the Los Angeles Times, praised Tom Cruise's performance: "Mackey gives Cruise the chance to cut loose by doing amusing riffs on his charismatic superstar image. It's great fun, expertly written and performed, and all the more enjoyable because the self-parody element is unexpected". In his review for The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris wrote, "In the case of Magnolia, I think Mr. Anderson has taken us to the water's edge without plunging in. I admire his ambition and his very eloquent camera movements, but if I may garble something Lenin once said one last time, 'You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs'."

In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "But when that group sing-along arrives, Magnolia begins to self-destruct spectacularly. It's astonishing to see a film begin this brilliantly only to torpedo itself in its final hour," but went on to say that the film "was saved from its worst, most reductive ideas by the intimacy of the performances and the deeply felt distress signals given off by the cast". Philip French, in his review for The Observer, wrote, "But is the joyless universe he (Anderson) presents any more convincing than the Pollyanna optimism of traditional sitcoms? These lives are somehow too stunted and pathetic to achieve the level of tragedy". Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "The result is a hard-striving, convoluted movie, which never quite becomes the smoothly reciprocating engine Anderson (who did Boogie Nights) would like it to be".

Roger Ebert included it in his "Great Movies" list in November 2008 saying "As an act of filmmaking, it draws us in and doesn't let go."

Total Film magazine placed it at number 4 in their list of 50 Best Movies in Total Film's lifetime.

Filmmaker Joss Whedon has cited Magnolia among his favorite films.


Magnolia was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards in 2000, Cruise for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and Mann for Best Original Song for "Save Me". Cruise won the Golden Globe. The film was also nominated for three Academy Awards, including Cruise for Best Supporting Actor, Anderson for Best Original Screenplay, and Aimee Mann's "Save Me" for Best Original Song. Magnolia did not win in any categories it was nominated for. Anderson's film won the Golden Bear at the 50th Berlin International Film Festival.

The Toronto Film Critics Association Awards named Magnolia the Best Film of 1999 and gave Anderson Best Director honors. His screenplay also tied with the ones for Being John Malkovich and American Beauty as the best of the year. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore won Supporting Actor and Actress awards from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.

2000 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

  • Nominated, Best Picture
2001 Grammy Awards

  • Nominated, Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
  • Nominated, Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
  • Nominated, Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media: Aimee Mann, for the song "Save Me"
2000 Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Nominated, Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture
  • Nominated, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Julianne Moore
  • Nominated, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Cruise


Numerous essays have been written on the themes in Magnolia, such as regret; loneliness; the cost of failed relationships as a result of parents, particularly fathers, who have failed their children; cruelty to children and its lasting effect (as demonstrated by the implied sexual assault perpetrated on Claudia by Jimmy); familial violence (as evinced by the opening scene, in which a boy is murdered by his mother); not all events and their results can be controlled, but an individual can control his or her own actions and that, to some degree, mistakes of the past cannot simply be erased ("We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us"); exploitation; and the limits of forgiveness.

Raining frogs and Exodus references

At the end of the film, frogs rain from the sky. While this is unexpected, there have been real-life reports of frogs being sucked into waterspouts and then raining to the ground miles inland. Throughout the film there are references to the Book of Exodus 8:2 "And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs."

The film has an underlying theme of unexplained events, taken from the 1920s and 1930s works of Charles Fort. Fortean author Loren Coleman has written a chapter about the film, entitled "The Teleporting Animals and Magnolia", in one of his recent books. One of Fort's books is visible on the table in the library and there is an end credit thanking Charles Fort.

The only character who seems to be unsurprised by the falling frogs is Stanley. He calmly observes the event, saying "This happens. This is something that happens." This has led to the speculation that Stanley is a prophet, allegorically akin to Moses, and that the "slavery" the movie alludes to is the exploitation of children by adults. These "father issues" persist throughout the movie, as seen in the abuse and neglect of Claudia, Frank, Donnie, Stanley, and Dixon.

Home media

The DVD release includes a lengthy behind-the-scenes documentary, That Moment. It uses a fly-on-the-wall approach to cover nearly every aspect of production, from production management and scheduling to music direction to special effects. The behind-the-scenes documentary is an in-depth look into Anderson's motivation and directing style. Pre-production included a screening of the film Network (1976), as well as Ordinary People (1980). Several scenes showed Anderson at odds with the child actors and labor laws that restrict their work time. The character of Dixon has further scenes filmed but, from Anderson's reactions, appear not to be working. These scenes were cut completely and have never been shown on DVD.

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