Synopsis: From writer/director P.T. Anderson comes the turbulent behind the scenes story of an extended family of filmmakers who set out to revolutionize the adult entertainment industry in the seventies.
Idealistic producer Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) has always dreamed of elevating his films into an art form. When he discovers young actor Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), Jack begins to turn his dreams into reality. Under the stage name of Dirk Diggler, Eddie soon gives the adult entertainment world a star the likes of which it has never seen. But the rise to fame has its costs, and soon Dirk finds himself sliding down the slippery slope of sex, drugs and violence. The only question: can he get himself back together before it’s too late?
Boogie Nights 8.0
eyelights: the superb cast. the way the story was woven together. the brilliant production.
eyesores: the run-of-the-mill plot developments.
“What can you expect when you’re on top? You know? It’s like Napoleon. When he was the king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him, you know, in the Roman Empire. So, it’s history repeating itself all over again.”
‘Boogie Nights’ is a fact-based 1997 dramedy about the Los Angeles porn industry during the late-’70s to mid-’80s. Featuring a fabulous ensemble cast, it’s the picture that put writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (‘Magnolia’, ‘Punch-Drunk Love‘, ‘There Will be Blood‘, ‘The Master’) on the map and was nominated for and has won dozens of awards for best picture, screenplay, and for Burt Reynold and Julianne Moore’s performances.
And yet, what most people remember it for is Dirk Diggler.
Dirk Diggler is the main character. Although he’s supported by at least a half dozen nearly omnipresent other characters, he’s the connecting thread from start to finish. A high school student, Dirk’s real name is Eddie Adams, and he has one very impressive talent: an incredibly long penis. He’s not especially bright, but he’s ambitious, and when he gets the opportunity to show off for porn filmmaker Jack Horner he jumps at the chance.
Naturally, he becomes an industry phenomenon and a star.
Diggler is loosely based on real-life porn actor John Holmes, who was also endowed with a lengthy member and whose career trajectory and dramatic personal stumbles inspired the character (Holmes’ life is explored in great detail in ‘Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes’). P.T. Anderson first explored the character in 1988 in his short film ‘The Dirk Diggler Story’, which he decided to adapt and expand into this ‘Boogie Nights’.
‘Boogie Nights’ is a reference to the club in which we meet all of the characters at the onset. In one long sequence, Anderson takes us from outside the club and in it, where Eddie works and where the others hang out on their spare time. This is where Horner hears rumours of Eddie’s physical attributes. When Horner approaches him, Eddie jadedly assumes that he wants him to unzip; being an all-too-common occurrence, he is ready to make a deal.
We are introduced to all the characters’ home lives after the club closes, humanizing them and giving us a point of reference for what would become a long journey for each of them. What’s interesting is that, for most of them, it’s a story that will come full circle, with the film ending in a similar long shot, showing us what each character is now up to after all these years. Anderson book-ended his picture absolutely perfectly.
But the film truly is about the cast and characters – and their dialogues, naturally. The script is a composite of various industry anecdotes, some real, some invented, that come together to create a life story; it isn’t focused on a particular plot development, although there are plenty of twists and turns throughout. Anderson selected a superb array of actors to inhabit this world, without which ‘Boogie Nights’ wouldn’t have succeeded.
- Mark Wahlberg is a revelation as Eddie Adams (a.k.a. Dirk Diggler). This is the role that made him: before this, he was trying to get away from his risible Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch persona in low-grade comedies and thrillers. Unfortunately, although his acting style would be perfect as Adams, it would be very limiting in subsequent pictures. But here, he makes Adams sweet, naive, confident, ambitious, yet woefully unsophisticated. He’s brilliant. You fully understand how he got where he is, between the attention he gets for his large member and the abuse he receives from his mom at home. And when he caves in to his ego, fuelled by drug abuse, you can see how the lost child in him would take over.
- Burt Reynolds is phenomenal as Jack Horner. He doesn’t have to express a wide range of emotions, but he’s so perfect as the businessman who dreams of making a “real” movie and sees opportunity in Diggler’s success. I’m no great fan of Reynolds (not even of his so-called classics), but he made this guy three-dimensional: the ambition, disappointment, anger, resignation, they all felt true. He deserved his nominations and awards. To think that he was so disappointment with the film when he first saw it that he fired his agent.
- Julianne Moore is splendid as Amber Waves, the troubled pro who’s a habitual coke user and is struggling to regain custody of her daughter. She transfers her mothering needs over to the cast by being affectionate, attentive and nurturing. Her intentions are good, but she is ill-suited to the task, offering up poor advice. Moore infuses her an absence that is hard to describe; she’s there physically, but is not entirely present. One gets the impression that she is numb, separate from her inner and outer life. Now one could have played this better.
- Don Cheadle has this terrific secondary part as Buck Swope, who dreams of escaping the porn industry to start his own hi-fi stereo shop. He’s obsessed with hi-fi, but also with country music, which doesn’t endear him to the customers (or his boss) at the stereo centre he currently works in. He’s basically trying to find himself and feels he’s found his place in country: he even dresses the part, to hilarious effect. He would try on many different guises as he becomes more and more disillusioned. Cheadle translates his enthusiasm and sober realization perfectly.
- William H. Macy plays Little Bill, the assistant director, who has the unfortunate lot of being married to a nymphomaniac who has no respect for him (played to great effect by porn star Nina Hartley). He’s always stumbling in on her sexual antics with various strangers, including a hilarious (for us, but devastating for him) moment when she is outside fornicating on the sidewalk with a man while a small crowd gathers. Macy humanizes Bill completely and helps us feels his pain. We fully understand his ultimate decision, even if we disagree.
- Another priceless character is Rollergirl, played by Heather Graham. I despise Graham: I’ve never found her convincing in any part. Except as Rollergirl, the ditzy high school porn star who never takes off her roller skates. She’s a two-dimensional character, but Graham gives her the brainless charm required. I know that a lot of guys remember this character best. Personally, the thing I remember most is how casually she agreed to “audition” Eddie at Jack’s behest; she was ready to strip and get to it without a blink.
Rounding up the main cast is John C. Reilly as Reed Rothchild, a porn star that Eddie befriends on set, becoming inseparable. Reilly is not your average leading man, and I love that he gets parts despite his nebbish first impression. There is hope, after all. He’s a wonderful actor, so he brought exactly what was needed to make Reed the vacuous but friendly sort Eddie could get along with easily.
There are also some excellent performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Scotty J., the boom operator with a crush on Eddie. He tries so hard to catch his attention and tell him how he feels, but he’s too timid. And when he finally does, it doesn’t go well at all. It’s both funny and sad. And then there’s Luis Guzmán as Maurice Rodriguez, the owner of ‘Boogie Nights’. He’s more of a fringe character, but Guzmán was effective.
I really enjoyed watching this again, after so many years. The Brock Harder films that they shoot together are a real hoot; they’re so bad it’s hilarious (I loved Anderson’s decision of shooting them in 16mm for a realistic touch). I enjoyed that scene between Eddie and Amber when they discuss how they’re going to do it, the specifics of it; it was so calm, collected, professional. And, of course, the reactions that Eddie gets each time someone sees his cock are outrageous.
And, yes, we do get to see it, in what amounts to an awesome payoff. Let’s face it: by that point, everyone in the audience wants to see it.
From a technical standpoint, Anderson injected “Boogie Nights’ with tons of delightfully slow, panning shots, awesome-looking sets, and a soundtrack that is so fully stocked with music from that era that it was hard not to enjoy. Naturally, if his script were bare, it would all be for naught, but Anderson’s dialogues (which he researched) truly conveyed the vacuousness of these characters – making them doubly hilarious, knowing that they actually come from the heart.
‘Boogie Nights’ doesn’t have a lot of replay value for me because it’s very long and there’s nothing in the story that I find clever or unique enough to drag me back to it time and time again. But it’s an extremely well-made motion picture on all counts and it features a few unforgettable performances to boot. Add to it a peppering of humour throughout, and it’s well-worth watching this bunch of outcasts who form the most unlikely of families.
Date of viewing: August 5, 2014