Song of the Day #4,863: ‘Save Me’ – Aimee Mann

Boogie Nights bought Paul Thomas Anderson enough creative capital to do whatever the hell he wanted on his next film, and he spent every penny of it. He delivered 1999’s Magnolia, a 3+ hour melodrama that follows a dozen main characters and culminates in a rain of frogs.

This is a glorious, full-hearted mess of a movie. It could easily lose 20-30 minutes (something Anderson himself now admits) and yet its grand ambition is one of its greatest charms. And as a time capsule of Anderson’s early development as an auteur, I’m glad it exists in its fascinating, imperfect original form.

Magnolia chronicles a day in the life of a kaleidoscope of troubled people in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. The characters are all connected one way or another, either biologically or thematically, with a quiz show titled ‘What Do Kids Know?’ serving as the fulcrum of the many story lines.

The film’s overarching theme is the damage visited on children by flawed adults, and Anderson serves up numerous overlapping examples. The most successful storyline for me on this rewatch was that of Tom Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackey, a self-help guru for incels. We see one of his toxic seminars, then sit in as he’s challenged by a probing interviewer, and finally follow him to the death bed of his absentee father, where he breaks down in heartbreaking fashion.

Cruise is mesmerizing in the role. It’s flabbergasting that he lost his best chance at an Academy Award when the trophy went to Michael Caine, picking up his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for the forgettable Cider House Rules. No wonder Cruise turned to churning out Mission Impossible movies after this.

This time around, I felt the film sagging a bit in its middle section, especially when the score starts working overdrive and the pace becomes relentless. Some of the dialogue in this portion feels overly written, too, struggling for a profundity that comes effortlessly in other parts of the film.

But things come to a crescendo during an extended monologue by Jason Robards, as the dying patriarch Earl Partridge (Frank’s father), and everything from there on out is pitch perfect. That includes the film’s two boldest strokes: a group singalong of Aimee Mann’s haunting ‘Wise Up’ and the apocalyptic rain of frogs.

If Boogie Nights was Anderson’s Goodfellas, Magnolia is his take on Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, another sprawling exploration of troubled Los Angelenos. But those moments of magical realism make the film a thrilling original.

[Note: Aimee Mann’s music plays a central role in Magnolia, including today’s Oscar-nominated Song of the Day. Anderson’s appreciation of Mann is evident in the fact that he shot the song’s video during the film’s production, asking his A-list cast to play background characters during her performance.]

[Verse 1]
You look like a perfect fit
For a girl in need of a tourniquet

[Chorus]
But can you save me?
Come on and save me
If you could save me
From the ranks of the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone

[Verse 2]
‘Cause I can tell
You know what it’s like
The long farewell
Of the hunger strike

[Chorus]
But can you save me?
Come on and save me
If you could save me
From the ranks of the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone

[Bridge]
You struck me dumb
Like radium
Like Peter Pan
Or Superman
You will come to save me

[Chorus]
C’mon and save me
If you could save me
From the ranks of the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone
‘Cept the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone
But the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone

C’mon and save me
Why don’t you save me?
If you could save me
From the ranks of the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone

Except the freaks
Who suspect they could never love anyone
Except the freaks who could never love anyone

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,863: ‘Save Me’ – Aimee Mann

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I recall going into this movie expecting to hate it, or at least to be very annoyed by it, but I came out really liking it. Perhaps that’s the effect of low expectations or maybe it’s because, despite being bloated and pretentious, the film and its excellent cast (and writing and Aimee Mann soundtrack) just worked for me more than it didn’t.

  2. willedare says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the wonderful Aimee Mann… I love her songwriting.

  3. Peg says:

    Didn’t see this movie for some reason. Need to catch up with it at some point. He likes to use the same actors in his films doesn’t he?

  4. Amy says:

    I remember finding the film heavy handed but loving Cruise’s performance. I was reminded of it recently in a funny bit on Ted Lasso when they were referencing A role where Tom Cruise wears a little tiny ponytail 🤣

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.