Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson || Produced by: Paul Thomas Anderson, Lawrence Gordon, Llyod Levin
Screenplay by: Paul Thomas Anderson || Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Music by: Michael Penn || Cinematography: Robert Elswit || Editing by: Dylan Tichenor || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 155 minutes
Unlike Magnolia (1999), which is probably the last Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) film I’d recommend to newcomers, 1997’s Boogie Night’s is almost certainly my first, as well as the most fun introduction to one of America’s most acclaimed wunderkinds. While still overlong like most of PTA’s flicks, Boogie Nights (BN) has a charismatic, flamboyant personality and flair. Its subject matter alone, the “Golden Age of Porn” in the late 1970’s, is an attractive, juicy topic that’s better suited to mass appeal than some of Anderson’s more dense narratives. However, just because the film is more conspicuous than Anderson’s other projects doesn’t make it any less rich in substance. PTA examines the inner workings of modern pornography and discovers what makes it tick, why we are attracted to (or repulsed by) it, and how we assign meaning and value to the genre. BN is essentially a deconstruction of pornography at its historic height, as well as a more expansive examination of the role sexuality plays in all genres of cinema.
Mark Wahlberg stars as protagonist Eddie Adams, soon re-named as Dirk Diggler after being discovered by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). The narrative covers Wahlberg’s rise to fame and time in the adult-entertainment spotlight, following his tale from rags to riches to rags and back to riches again. It’s an up-and-down roller coaster of a ride that takes full advantage of its simultaneously glamorous yet outrageous subject matter, all the while dismantling the viewing public’s stereotypes of the porn industry and the broader concept of sexuality in film.
PTA points out that sex on film, be it labeled as “exploitative” pornography or more “artistic” cinema, is almost always utilized in the same way: To turn on the viewer. On some level or another, film depictions of human sexuality are meant to make us want to either get it on with the nearest partner or touch ourselves, regardless of how frank the filmmaker is about this intention. PTA showcases film sexuality in BN at its most basic elements and stripped of its sugar-coated glamour, unclothed and not stylized in any way. PTA does this with great irony in examining the ultimate “pleasure industry,” which he shows for what it really is: just another business, just another industry that is trying to make money.
As a straightforward character-driven story, BN is a pretty darned good one. Wahlberg’s evolution is dramatic and fun to watch without being unrealistic. The colorful supporting cast, including frequent PTA collaborators John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore, surround Wahlberg’s protagonist with a diverse team of complex personalities all jockeying for position in the adult-entertainment industry. Their journeys follow Reynold’s and Wahlberg’s rise to the top as the Golden Age of Porn reaches its peak in the late ’70’s, and then traces the fall of the industry into the excesses of the 1980’s. Along the way, more or less every supporting character, along with Wahlberg, gets time to shine and is developed considerably. The way BN covers the history of pornography with such a diverse and well constructed set of interconnected character arcs is impressive.
Arguably the most sublime case of PTA’s character-study is the dynamic between Julianne Moore and Wahlberg. Both souls find refuge, so to speak, in their profession as a result of their broken home lives. Moore is denied custody of her child because of her employment in the porn industry and Wahlberg runs away from his family because of a verbally abusive, alcoholic mother. After becoming acquainted professionally, Moore and Wahlberg “matriculate” and grow to be surrogate mother and son to each other, respectively, engaging in a sort of bizarre oedipal complex that feels believable because it is both touching and extremely weird. This is just the best example of BN’s character developments, however. There are several great interconnected relationships and arcs in BN, and I would argue that the mosaic of characters-relationships here is vastly more interesting than the character-dynamics in Magnolia.
Much of what negatively affected PTA’s next film, Magnolia, also weakens BN, if only a little bit. While BN is nowhere near as excessive as Magnolia was, BN’s 155 minute running still feels decidedly on the long side, and not in a good way. The ending to this long story also feels like an easy way out, and isn’t near as satisfying as some of PTA’s stronger films.
I would recommend this film to most casual viewers as the best introduction to Anderson’s work, as it’s less bizarre then most of his projects and has plenty of humor and personality to go along with its outrageous setting. Much the same with most of PTA’s filmography, I’m not as in love with Boogie Nights as most critics and cinephiles seem to be, but it’s hard to deny a movie that’s this smart while also being this much fun.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Anderson breaks down the adult entertainment industry with a potent screenplay that’s intelligent, funny, and sad — frequently all at the same time. Boogie Night’s strong cast makes this narrative a rich and personable one. We get to know everyone, including the minor characters, inside and out.
— However… Boogie Nights retains the pacing problems that plague most of Anderson’s films. The ending lacks the polish and impact of the rest of the film.
? You’re not the boss of me, Jack. You’re not the king of Dirk. I’m the boss of me. I’m the king of me. I’m Dirk Diggler. I’m the star. It’s my big dick and I say when we roll. You know what? I’m the biggest star here, man. That’s the way it is! I want to fuck! It’s my big dick! So, everybody get ready fuckin’ NOW!