Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly
Family can form in the oddest of ways. You’ve seen them all but never something like what you find in the cocaine-filled and electric Boogie Nights. A film about the rise of one young man through the porn industry and all about the change of the guard in terms of filmmaking.
Working at a local club is Eddie (Mark Wahlberg), later to be known as Dirk Diggler, where he’s scouted by the famous porn director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). Dirk becomes a rising star in the adult entertainment industry because of a special talent of his, which boils down to him having an unbelievably large penis.
The synopsis of this film makes Boogie Nights seem like a joke of a film, but once you get sucked into the story, it becomes about so much more. Not a surprise considering the tremendous Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed the feature. He wrote this story at a young age and finally got the funding and the star power to bring it to fruition, and he created something not seen before. Boogie Nights happens to be about a group of individuals, who shoot porn movies, but it’s themes expand into making this quite the experience.
All of the characters of the story are established within this airtight crew of people, but the introduction of Dirk Diggler serves as our entryway into learning more about this charismatic crew. We have the patriarch of them all, Jack Horner, who believes in the filmmaking of the pornographic movies he makes. It becomes a major aspect of the film because of the way porn used to be distributed to the public. In today’s culture, it’s available online, but in the 70s people would go to theaters to watch this type of material. Jack believes in creating a story as much as showing the sexual acts on screen. He wants the audience to stay after they have released their “joy juice” as he calls it. Jack cares about the production, as any director would on any movie or television set, he just happens to be shooting pornography.
Maggie (Julianne Moore), known more for her performing name Amber Waves, serves as the matriarch and she stars in several of the productions put on by Jack. She deals with being a figurative mother to the other porn stars and struggling to be there for her biological son. Other characters include Buck (Don Cheadle), Reed (John C. Reilly), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), Scotty J (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and many others. Paul Thomas Anderson manages to weave all of these characters into one story while giving them each an arc. Something not many can do successfully, but he accomplished it by bringing out the comedy of their lives and the egos involved in the porn industry.
Dirk’s best friend quickly becomes Reed portrayed by John C. Reilly. He provides several scenes where all you can do is laugh at his attitude. It plays out well in their meeting scene, where they compare how much each of them can bench or squat. Reilly adds a comedic undertone to the whiny and competitive nature of Reed, as the new guys step into Jack Horner’s home. A fit of jealousy that dissipates quickly, because a family genuinely gets formed between these porn actors that feel genuine. It’s as unorthodox as one could imagine as some of them perform with each other, but their familial relationship remains strong because they believe in what they’re creating. Jack sets it up and they deliver. Much of the movie consists of them partying at Jack’s house and the pool he has in the back. Each of these parties reveals more about each of the characters and the genuine hopes and dreams they possess. Buck wants to sell his own stereos, Reed loves doing magic, and Amber loves being a motherly figure. Each of these characters feels like a real person.
As much as this film is an ensemble, it centers around Dirk Diggler and how he goes from being a screw-up in the eyes of his parents to a genuine porn star. A star to the point where he receives awards for his acting and sexual work. Even with his success, he has such a childish personality and whines when he does not get his way. It creates quite the juxtaposition of someone meant to be a sexual star being treated like a child at times. The performance marks the best in Mark Wahlburg’s career in the way he portrays the enthusiastic and ambitious Dirk. Coincidentally, it’s the role he has since disowned because of the lewd content, but he cannot erase his tremendous work. Considering the rest of his career has been portraying bland American heroes to a fictional degree, maybe he should’ve stuck with roles like this and worked with filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson.
Boogie Nights has so much to enjoy with how absurd its story gets while being grounded with the idea of family and the art of filmmaking. It demonstrates the early signs of a phenomenal filmmaker in Paul Thomas Anderson as he shows the swagger and style he would bring to all of his other and better films. When a quick-paced groovy movie such as this does not land in your Top 5 best films, you know you’ve got a special filmmaker. From the pool parties to the filming sets, Boogie Night creates a jamboree of celebration, the hardships of leaving the porn industry, and the advancement of an era leaving the old ways behind.