A well-endowed busboy becomes a star in the
California porn industry in the late 70's and early 80's.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds,
Heather Graham, William H. Macy, Don Cheadle,
John C. Reilly, Thomas Jane, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Oscar Nominations - Best Supporting Actor (Burt Reynolds),
Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore), Best Original Screenplay
Back in 1997, Paul Thomas Anderson was nobody. He wasn't the critically acclaimed director of Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master yet. He did Boogie Nights, a movie about the glitz and glamour of the porn industry, at the beginning of his career, when it could've cost him everything. He did it because he believed in this film, and because it also shows the dark side of working in porn. The drugs, the danger, the cheapening of sex and the degrading of women. Anderson doesn't shy away from any of it while still delivering a ridiculous yet poignant film that essentially follows a fictional pornstar during his rise and fall. Meet Dirk Diggler.
Mark Wahlberg plays our well-endowed hero in what is easily the best performance of his career. Being so young and on the cusp of breaking into Hollywood himself, Wahlberg was able to channel his angst, his fears, and his insecurities into the character of Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler, and it feels genuine 100% of the time. Not to mention the insane supporting cast of Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Thomas Jane. Damn, did I forget anybody? Anderson proved early in his career that he is one of the masters of gathering an ensemble. Everyone plays to their strengths and against type simultaneously. It's incredible.
Boogie Nights is a fun, sexy, raw, and ultimately self-destructive look behind the curtain of the San Fernando Valley porn scene in the late 70's and early 80's. Not a lot of films have been made about this highly lucrative, highly degrading, but always booming niche industry that's been around as long as there's been cameras. Boogie Nights doesn't make light of the industry, but instead uses a fictional group of characters to showcase what it means to give yourself over, body and soul, to pornography. It remains one of Anderson's strongest films, and that is really saying something when you look at everything he did later.
Pornography is an absurdly large part of our culture that has always had a stigma. In 1997, one of the most talented modern American filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson, delivered a film based upon people involved in the pornography realm during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Being PTA’s second feature length film, he somehow got a stacked cast of actors to get on board for this cult classic, including Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy, etc.
We are rapidly introduced to some characters in a club, making it known that this movie will be in party mode for a while, but the dialogue doesn’t allow you to just be entertained, provoking thought instead. Eddie Adams (Wahlberg) is a 17 year old busser, who has his own gift, easing him right into this crazed world of videoing sexual acts. PTA’s ability to introduce characters is famous as is, but he might have done his best job in Boogie Nights as far as that is concerned. We are hastily but smoothly walked through these people's lives, as they balance everyday life and pornography life.
Jack Horner (Reynolds) recruits Adams for his business and things kick into gear real quick. About 30 minutes into the film, Adams moves from home to go ahead and act for Horner full time. Materials and pleasure await Adams as he fulfills what he believes to be his purpose because of the gift he has been given. This film belongs right in the thick of the 90’s, where dialogue thrives with the uttermost confidence. Not only do all these actors show out, but they put out, continuously keeping the viewers eyes on the screen.
I don’t want to ruin anything, but there’s a turning point in the film that I like to call the “Little Bill” moment, breaking the film from happy-go-lucky party type story to a "these are very real people with very real problems" type story. The feisty world of the porn industry sucks people in and chews them into pieces, as we see in Boogie Nights.
The soundtrack is unbeatable in this film, as we are taken through the pre-internet era, making each human interaction seem so important. The industry of porn is surrounded by people who like to have a good time, sometimes taking hold of people involved in the work. This film displays the pros and cons of choosing this kind of work better than we have ever seen. I don’t think another director/writer will ever try to take this kind of a challenge head on again. PTA beat everyone to the punch and he did so in incredible fashion.