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Boogie Nights (1997)

February 14, 2011

8/10 Trouser Pythons

The most epic and legitimate thing that’s ever happened to porn.

Boogie Nights is about a High School dropout growing up in 1970s California whose life as a small-time night club prostitute of sorts is changed forever when he’s discovered by the biggest director in the porn industry and taken under his wing. So he runs away from his broken home, starts a new life with his new “family” of porn stars, changes his name to Dirk Diggler, and quickly becomes the Marlon Brando of banging chicks on film. For a while there, everything’s looking up for the kid and there’s no sign of stopping, but then the ’80s come around and absolutely everything starts going to shit.

Ain’t that the truth.

These days, Paul Thomas Anderson is absolutely no joke. You’ve got this, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and his magnum opus of milkshakes and oilmen, There Will Be Blood. Yeah, he’s been gettin’ it done for a while now, but all the same, I really have no idea how this beast of a movie came off the heels of his low budget, ho-hum debut, Hard Eight. Like upgrading from a Honda Civic to an time-traveling DeLorean in one year.

Honestly, look at all the names that are tagged up there. It’s a fuckin’ cornucopia of A-listers, and better yet, a number of them are even giving the best performances of their careers. I probably won’t be able to give each and every one of the folks in this cast their due, but the scope, the vision and the number of heavyweights who came out of the woodwork to be a part of this are all a huge leap from Anderson’s humble beginnings and it’s amazing the kind of substance he whips up considering the industry he’s working with.

The first time I saw this back in High School, it went clear over my head. As far as I was concerned, porn was porn and making it seem like anything more than sex and money shots was a hopeless endeavor to set out upon. But after seeing this again and realizing that it’s more about the characters and porn as a metaphor of the times than Anderson trying to get the masses to reach some mind-blowing epiphany about the art of knocking boots on camera, I got it. It’s kinda like figuring out what it was I liked out about Forrest Gump in that regard, only with less Dr. Pepper and way more orgies.

And Anderson really is something else behind the camera. So many incredibly well-structured long shots that jump from character to character to character without skipping a beat and gets the audience completely invested in everything that’s going on, some great montages that range from totally groovy to a Debbie Downer that gives the “ass to ass” finale in Requiem for a Dream a run for its money, just one of those movies where the director’s involvement in every aspect comes off as palpable. Man, if more folks like Anderson were making porn 40 years ago, if more folks cared about the story they were telling in same way he does here, let me tell ya’, Ron Jeremy would be winning Oscars.

So as far as the porn aspect is concerned, Anderson makes it work for two reasons: it’s rarely taken seriously, and when it is, it’s actually pretty meaningful. It’s a tribute to a time when sex was more celebrated than objectified and how that outlook disintegrated with the passing of a decade, but even in its glory days, Anderson’s not making any illusions about how laughably bad porn was back in the day aside from all the sexing and such. The fake pornos he creates are freakin’ hilarious, the acting is absolutely terrible and it’s a great send-up of something that was already unintentionally hilarious to begin with. Actually ends up getting pretty depressing and grim once it gets into the ’80s, but up until then, hilarious. Can’t think of a better approach to take when you’re trying to make a mainstream movie about porn, actually.

But anyway, the cast.

In one of his first big screen debuts, Mark Wahlberg plays our little porn star that could, Dirk Diggler. On the one hand, Diggler does allow him to play to his strengths as everyone’s favorite Calvin Klein underwear model, but aside from that, he’s surprisingly good for someone who definitely didn’t have a whole lot of acting experience under his belt. It’s great how eager and green behind the ears he is in regards to the direction his life is heading in, how he’s always practicing kung-fu in the mirror and how he’s just a genuinely nice kid who couldn’t be happier to make new friends, win awards for having sex, and to be part of this new life that’s so far away from his old one. Makes the contrast between his the darker periods of his career that much starker, and Wahlberg really manages to pull it off. Doesn’t hurt that he’s got one bang-up record career going for him, too.

Burt Reynolds is also perfect as our porn mogul of the hour and Dirk’s surrogate father of sorts, Jack Horner. Heather Graham absolutely gives the best performance of her career as Horner’s biggest starlet, Rollergirl; Julianne Moore is fantastic as Dirk’s surrogate mother of sorts/debut co-star, Amber Waves; and John C. Reilly is fucking great as Dirk’s sidekick/shadow, Reed Rothchild. Like I said, there’s a crap load of noteworthy actors here, far too many to sum up without boring you all silly, but trust me, they’re all out of sight.

Although the best part about all these characters is that none of them fall by the wayside. Every last one of ’em have their one little plot line going on, they’re all really interesting and very much play into the big picture, and they’re all given their due even though this many characters would likely be the downfall of most movies. For Chrissakes, superhero movies can’t even handle more than two villains let alone a dozen different supporting characters who all have developing arcs from beginning to end. With that being said, that one aspect is what I loved most about this movie. It really does feel like a tight-knit family and the porn ends up becoming a backdrop to a crew that’s far more interesting and genuine than their line of work.

Boogie Nights is one of those movies that I feel should probably be a 9 and probably would if I had been born two decades earlier and could relate to what these characters were going through in regards to the sign of the times. If I had the same connection to Dirk Diggler as I did to Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love, this would have easily been a 9. All the same, there’s a ton to admire and appreciate here, I love the fluid progression and digression of the story as it transitions from the good time, weed-fueled days of the ’70s to the cocaine crazy nights from Hell of the ’80s, it’s far more engrossing and impressive than a movie revolving around porn had any right to be, and I very much dig why so many people flip over this movie. There’s a lot more to write about here than I already have, this is one of those things someone could probably write a thesis on, but that’s as much a justice as I can do it. Truly epic. Not even kidding.

And how about that final shot? Some note to end on, huh?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2011 1:41 am

    Awesome review of a really good film.

    Yeah, its really surprising as to how Anderson managed to get a large budget and a slew of A-listers in Boogie Nights, given that his previous film (incidentally, also his debut feature) had been the modest Hard Eight. But then, that’s really good for us, cos this enormously talented director managed to satisfy film lovers’ sky high expectations by followed that up with a series of exceptional films in the form of Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia & There Will Be Blood.

    The acting department, as you mentioned, indeed was one of the most noteworthy aspects of the film. Every one, be they popular actors or character actors, did stupendous jobs. And, for all the cheesy aspects of the storyline, this was a surprisingly sensitive and endearing work.

    • February 15, 2011 2:14 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, Anderson really took off after this and for good reason, too. And the cheesy parts totally were sensitive and endearing. Those scenes with Wahlberg and Reilly running around as the porn version of James Bond and his sidekick were hilarious.

    • February 17, 2011 1:39 am

      “Yeah, its really surprising as to how Anderson managed to get a large budget and a slew of A-listers in Boogie Nights”

      Not to knock PTA too much, but back in ’97, not many of these people were A-listers in the slightest. Reynolds was a joke, Wahlberg hadn’t starred in a real film yet (unless you wanna count Fear and The Big Hit – stretches even then), Moore was a soap star, Macy, Guzman, Cheadle, Hoffman, Reilly, etc., etc. were all (and some still are) character actors. Thomas Jane was an unknown. Of course, that’s partly why the film is as good as it is – it’s filled with seasoned pros, all there to nurture their young buck to stardom and beyond.

      • February 17, 2011 2:47 pm

        Great point, man. These days it’s like any filmmaker’s dream cast, but they really were no-names back in ’97. They just rock so hard these days, sometimes I forget.

  2. February 14, 2011 7:22 am

    First saw this at an impressionable age and was quite taken aback. Julianne Moore and Heather Graham were two of my favourites for a while. I think Moore’s performance is sensational actually.

    • February 15, 2011 2:17 pm

      Really is, and the great thing about Moore is that you can pretty much always say that about her. Too bad Graham hasn’t really done anything quite so noteworthy since, but I thought was pretty damn good as Rollergirl.

      Definitely an interesting movie to see at an impressionable age.

  3. February 14, 2011 9:38 am

    I’ve been interested in this movie, because I love Magnolia, but I’ve been on the fence about watching it. Porn is a subject that’s held no interest for me since I passed the age of 16. 🙂 But you do make it sound interesting, and what a lot of talent! By the way, I love the phrase “a fuckin’ cornucopia of A listers.” You have a way with words!

    • February 15, 2011 3:58 pm

      Hahaha. Thanks! Glad you liked that.

      And I’m right there with ya’. I had trouble getting past the porn aspect the first time I saw it, but it’s really not about porn at all and that’s why it works. If you loved Magnolia, you’ll absolutely love this. Not as many frog storms, but still great stuff.

  4. HermioneO permalink
    February 14, 2011 11:53 am

    Man, I thought you were gonna say ‘pornucopia’. That would have made it for me. Speaking for the older generation, who actually lived through all of this and experienced the change from FILM to VIDEO firsthand, it was spot on. If you see the old classics, like Sodom and Gomorrah, or the Boob Tube, they make most of the VIDEO that came after look like machine shop drek. Sure, they were bad, but in a good way.

    And this film was the beginning of my love affair with Bill Macy. Little Bill was just classic, and his relationship with his pornstar wife (oh god, what is her name?) was hilarious. Also, the unrequited love of loser guy played by damnit I can’t believe i can’t name him but you know who I mean. Memory – it’s the first thing to go.

    • February 15, 2011 3:57 pm

      Hahahaha. Can’t BELIEVE I missed the opportunity to use “pornucopia”. You win this time, Hermione. And I think Nina Hartley played Bill Macy’s wife. He was great in this, but it’s too bad that he serves more as a turning point for when things truly started to careen downhill. Poor guy, what a shitty wife he ended up with.

      And that’s Philip Seymour Hoffman you’re thinking of. Love him in this movie, too.

  5. February 14, 2011 6:57 pm

    I loved the whole cast and the characters that Anderson makes are just incredibly original. Wahlberg really holds his own in this film, and Reynolds probably gives his greatest performance of his cool, mustache dude career. Also, that lost shot!?!? The whole film basically leads up to that last shot, and it really does deliver. Much like this whole film. Great review my dude!!

    • February 15, 2011 4:00 pm

      Hahaha. Thanks, man. That last shot really is wild, and you’re right, it totally does deliver. I feel like everyone tends to downplay “it” up until that point, but it really is an unexpected, perfect, jaw-dropping note to end the movie on. Crazy.

  6. Kim Pollard permalink
    February 14, 2011 10:38 pm

    It was the first I’d ever seen Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly and Don Cheadle and fell in love with each of them. I try to watch everything they are in ever since. Thanks for the review.

    • February 15, 2011 3:54 pm

      You got it, Kim! A great place to be introduced to all three of those guys. Some of the best out there right now (you could make a pretty solid argument for Hoffman being THE best these days) and I don’t blame you for falling in love with ’em after this. God, they really are so good here.

  7. February 15, 2011 12:40 am

    This along with Requiem for a Dream works as a great combo for the disillusion of the American Dream.

    • February 15, 2011 3:52 pm

      Great insight. Watching these two back-to-back is a major one-two punch. Throw in Fear and Loathing and you might just cry yourself to sleep for a week.

  8. February 17, 2011 1:42 am

    Aiden, Aiden, Aiden…and here I thought we were CTAs…

    I give it a 10! A fucking 10! [/Varsity Blues]

    I love this movie so much. It sits alongside Casino as mid-90s dramas that are funny as hell, epic and sprawling, directed by the tip-top of directors, that get better with each and every viewing. Plop me down in front of Boogie at any point and I’m there ’till the end. SOOOOO many classic scenes and lines it’s not funny. Blows the shit out of any Altman flick I’ve ever seen…

    • February 17, 2011 2:36 pm

      Hahaha. I’m sorry, man. I’ll get my shit together.

      Won’t knock anyone for giving this a 10, just isn’t there for me yet. And Casino’s hilarious? Guess I need to see that one again to fully appreciate Pesci’s swearing abilities.

      Great movie though. You will NOT write me off as your CTA!

      • February 18, 2011 12:09 am

        Okay, maybe Casino isn’t hilarious, but it’s definitely funny. Pesci in all scenes is great, but especially the one where he’s harassing Don Rickles. Woods is unintentionally funny. I dunno – there’s just a lot of dry humor there and situations that make me laugh, like the way Pesci…inspires the ladies to go down on him.

        Alright…we’re still CTAs…for now. 😉

      • February 18, 2011 3:30 pm

        Haha. Thanks for the wink, bud.

        Haven’t seen Casino in ages, so all I remember about Pesci is his hand-dandy vice grip and how awesome he was at swearing. The swearing was definitely funny. Time to give that one another go.

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