Released:  1999

Cast:  Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Melora Walters

Oscar Nominations:  Best Supporting Actor (Tom Cruise), Best Original Screenplay (Paul Thomas Anderson), Best Original Song (Aimee Mann, “Save Me”)

SUMMARY:  This film features an ensemble cast, and frequently cuts between their stories (which are linked).  Because of this, I’m going to try to relate this summary in terms of what happens to each character, not the chronological movie action.

Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is a former television producer who is now dying of cancer.  He is cared for by a round-the-clock nurse, in addition to his much-younger wife Linda (Julianne Moore).  Linda is having a very hard time coping with the imminent death of her husband, and spends most of the day (the whole film takes place during one day) away from the house on various errands.  The day shift at the house is taken by Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a nurse who has an affectionate relationship with Earl.  During a lucid moment, Earl asks Phil to contact his estranged son Jack.  However, the son is going by the name Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise).  Phil knows that Frank is famous for his courses on how to attract women, and when he can’t find a home number, he uses an ad number to try to get in touch.  Frank is doing an interview, during which the host cites research in which she learned that Frank and his mother were abandoned by his father; when his mother died of cancer, the teenaged Frank was forced to take care of her.  After this is revealed Frank ends the interview and storms out.  He is handed a phone, and a secretary tells him about Phil and Earl.  Frank pauses for some time, deciding if he wants to talk to Phil or not.  Meanwhile, Linda has come home and found Phil on the phone, trying to get to Frank.  She forces him to hang up the phone before he talks to Frank (although Frank ultimately decides not to answer the call).  During the day, Linda picked up a number of medications for her husband, which drew suspicious questions from the pharmacists.  She also visited her lawyer and tried to change Earl’s will.  She tells the lawyer that she married Earl for his money, but has grown to love him:  she wants to change the will because she does not feel right about getting Earl’s money after what she did.  Linda later apologizes to Phil, then leaves again as she is unable to watch her husband die.  She goes to an empty parking lot, where she takes a handful of pills with some alcohol.  She is found, unconscious but alive, but a local boy who calls the police.  Paramedics take her to a hospital to recover.  Meanwhile, Frank has come to see his father on his own.  After cursing the man repeatedly, he breaks down and begs him not to die.  He sits by his father as he passes away.  In the morning, he gets a call from the hospital about Linda, and goes to the hospital to see her.

That morning, Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is dropped off at school by his father, an aspiring actor.  Later in the day the pair go to the set of the TV quiz show What Do Kids Know?, which Stanely is a contestant on.  With a team of two other children, Stanley is attempting to beat an adult team en route to breaking the all-time earnings record.  The show is hosted by Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), who has recently learned that he is dying of cancer, with only a few months to live.  Before arriving on the set, Jimmy attempted to visit his estranged daughter Claudia, but she threw him out of her apartment.  Stanley’s father has put tremendous pressure on his son to win the money, as have the other two children (who are basically along for the ride).  Just before the show starts, Stanley has to use the bathroom, but is not allowed to go.  He asks again during a commercial break, but is again refused, and mocked by the adult team.  Finally, Stanley wets his pants.  After this he stops answering questions, and his team quickly falls into a hole.  His father is furious, and during the next break he storms onto the set and demands to know what is happening.  Meanwhile, Jimmy has hosted the show completely trashed, and now starts to feel the effects:  he collapses on air.  He is revived, and the show continues, but in the final round Stanley refuses to participate, despite the insistence of his teammates.  When the show cuts, he runs off the stage and out of the studio.  Jimmy goes home to his wife Rose (Melinda Dillon), and confesses that he has cheated on her throughout their marriage.  Rose does not seem overly surprised, and presses the issue by demanding to know why Claudia will not talk to him.  Jimmy says that Claudia believes he molested her; when Rose asks if this is true, Jimmy says he can’t remember.  Rose leaves, and Jimmy takes a gun from the kitchen drawer and prepares to shoot himself.  However, frogs abruptly start falling from the sky.  One of them crashes through the skylight of the kitchen and falls onto Jimmy’s hand, knocking the gun away from his head and causing him to shoot the TV.  After taking refuge in his school, Stanley returns home and tells his father that he must be nicer.  His father tells Stanley to go to bed.

Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is a Los Angeles police officer whose first call of the day is about a disturbance in an apartment.  He encounters a hostile woman — and a dead body in the closet.  As he leaves he meets a young boy, Dixon, who says he knows who killed the man, but Jim ignores him and leaves (Dixon later finds Linda in her car and calls the police).  His next call is another disturbance, this time at the apartment of Claudia Wilson (Melora Walters) — Jimmy and Rose’s daughter.  The disturbance in question is the confrontation that erupted when Jimmy tried to visit, and Claudia threw him out.  Claudia is a cocaine addict, and sometimes prostitutes herself to pay for the drugs.  However, when Frank investigates the disturbance he does not know this, and after making excuses to stay much longer than necessary, he asks her on a date later that night; she agrees.  Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) is a former contestant on What Do Kids Know?, who now works in an electronics store.  Donnie’s parents spent all the money he won on the show, and he is unhappy with his life.  Though he does not need them, he decides to get braces in order to have something in common with a bartender he likes.  However, he does not have the money to pay for the braces, and gets fired from his job that morning.  Donnie ultimately decides to break into the store that night and steal the money he needs.  That evening, Jim is driving to pick up Claudia when he sees suspicious activity.  He attempts to pursue, but loses his gun and is humiliated by the backup officers that arrive.  At dinner, he and Claudia both agree to be completely honest with each other, so he tells her that he lost his gun, is not a very good cop, and hasn’t dated since his divorce three years earlier.  Claudia tells him that he will hate her when he finds out about her, but Jim insists he will not.  She kisses him, then abruptly leaves.  Meanwhile, Donnie breaks into the store and takes money from the safe.  As he leaves, his key breaks off in the lock.  As he drives home, he has a change of heart, and returns to the store.  When he can’t open the door again (because the key is stuck), he tries to climb the drainpipe.  Jim sees him as he drives by, but as he prepares to stop frogs start falling from the sky.  One of them knocks Donnie off the pole, causing him to smash his teeth.  Jim drags him to safety, and later helps him return the money — after which Jim’s gun falls from the sky.  He then goes to Claudia’s apartment.  After leaving Jimmy at home, Rose Gator drove into the frog storm and crashed her car.  She manages to get to Claudia’s apartment, and the two reconcile.  In the morning, Jim visits and tells her he wants to keep seeing her.

MY TAKE:  Obviously, all of these stories intersect in some way, which is interesting.  However, the fact that there are about ten different story lines means the movie is really long.  When I watch a really good movie, time seems to fly, and I don’t realize how long the film lasts because I’m so engrossed in what’s happening.  I think I felt every minute of this movie, especially the last two hours.  After that first hour, it seemed really melodramatic and overblown, and at the two hour mark I seriously wondered how they were going to stretch things out for another hour.  Things just go on FOREVER.    I got bored, and lost sympathy with any characters I might have liked.  It’s like the insignificant details get way too much attention — in another movie this would have been okay, but when there are eighteen other stories going on, something needs to be cut out.  In addition, the stories of Jimmy Gator and Earl Partridge seemed really similar, which made me feel like one of them was unnecessary.  Basically, if a few stories had been cut out, and the action sped up a little, I think it would have been a much better movie.  And yes, it can really rain frogs — I looked it up.

RATING:  Overlong and overdone.


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