Paul Thomas Anderson has directed an important number of notable works of contemporary cinema, like Licorice Pizza, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, and, of course, that weird Saturday Night Live sketch where Ben Affleck wants Anna Nicole Smith to be his mommy. If you didn't know about that last one, shame on you -- the fact that it's tucked away in an SNL episode from 22 years ago is no excuse for neglecting this essential part of his filmography.  

Why would an already famous and respected filmmaker write and direct an SNL skit? Most likely because he was dating that week's musical guest, Fiona Apple, and cast member Molly Shannon happened to be his good friend. Another relevant point of information is the fact that, according to Apple, they were doing a crapload of drugs at the time. Here's a clip from the sketch, but before you click we must warn you that it contains Jimmy Fallon, so watch at your own risk. 

The sketch follows Affleck as a suicidal man who is blessed with a chance to go on MTV's FANatic, a show about regular people meeting stars like, well, Ben Affleck. In this case, Affleck's character wants to meet Anna Nicole Smith, the former Playboy playmate turned actress whose most notable work was, and remains, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994). By the way, as someone pointed out in reply to the tweet above, the action movie briefly shown in the sketch might look made up but it's completely real: Skyscraper is basically "Die Hard in a skyscraper." So, uh, Die Hard. Only with Ana Nicole Smith trying and failing to fill Bruce Willis' shoes, which is impressive because he didn't even wear shoes for much of the movie. (Note: Mild, blurry, daytime Cinemax-type nudity in the video below.) 

Back to the sketch, the most emotional moment is when Affleck finally gets to meet Anna Nicole Smith and tells her he hasn't been taking his parents' divorce too well, so he asks her to adopt him. She tells him to "help mommy put on some lipstick," so he lovingly applies some to her lips and tongue ... and then they start making out. She seems into it at first, but not so much when she's violently kicking him out of her room.  

Now, this might seem like simple gross-out humor to you, but true film connoisseurs know it fits in nicely with the rest of PTA's oeuvre. Entire scholarly articles have been written about the Oedipal themes in films like Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread, and The Master. In the latter, Joaquin Phoenix's character admits he had an affair with his aunt and possibly killed a drunkard like his dad during the intense interview scene: 

The SNL short also includes a notable interview sequence, only this one is set in a hallway and shot in that late '90s/early '00s MTV style where they kept one camera straight and did weird angles with the second one (man, that Joaquin Phoenix scene would have looked sick if they'd done it like that). The sketch ends with Affleck saying he thinks the meeting "went pretty well" and that "she's not gonna be my mom overnight," because these things "take time." It's another example of a PTA protagonist who deludes himself and ultimately pays the price for blindly following his obsession; in this case, that price is knowing Jimmy Fallon is probably making out with Anna Nicole Smith now. 

In a way, this sketch is a microcosm of PTA's filmography and the purest expression of some of his most recurrent themes. Would we be reading this much into it if we didn't know he directed it? Well, uh ... shut up. Anyway, Criterion Collection: get on this. 

Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment on every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.  

Top image: NBC 

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