Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights is the story of a young man who catches the attention of a porno filmmaker in the 1970s. After becoming a star and part of a family, his life goes into a downward spiral during the 1980s which affects himself and the people he calls his family. The film is an exploration of the world of the 1970s porn film industry and the people who were part of it. With an all-star cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Robert Ridgley, Nicole Ari Parker, Luis Guzman, Melora Walters, Philip Baker Hall, and Alfred Molina. Boogie Nights is an exciting yet lively film from P.T. Anderson.
Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a 17-year old kid who works as a busboy for a club owner named Maurice Rodriguez (Luis Guzman). One of the club regulars is Maurice’s friend and renowned porno filmmaker Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who hears that Eddie is well-endowed. After meeting Jack and his longtime girlfriend/porno actress Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), Eddie feels like he’s got a chance to make something himself away from the verbal abuse of his own mother (Joanna Gleason). After an audition with one of Jack’s actresses in the young Rollergirl (Heather Graham), Eddie succeeds as he meets actors in magician/musician Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) and a stereo salesman named Buck Swope (Don Cheadle).
Renamed Dirk Diggler, Eddie immediately becomes a star with Jack guiding him as he makes Eddie part of a family that includes cameraman/editor Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay), actress Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker), soundman Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and assistant director Little Bill (William H. Macy). Jack hopes to get some respect outside of the world of the porn industry where he, Eddie, and Reed come up with a series of films that become popular. After a New Year’s Eve party to end the 1970s ended in tragedy, Jack’s hopes to become legit crashes when his longtime financier Colonel James (Robert Ridgley) is arrested. Having to work with another producer in Floyd Gondoli (Philip Baker Hall) who forces Jack to switch from film to video, Jack’s world starts to fall apart as Eddie becomes addicted to drugs.
For Jack and the people around him, things become tough in the 1980s as Buck and his wife Jessie St. Vincent (Melora Walters) hope to start a stereo business for themselves. Eddie and Reed are unable to get their music career going due to their own addictions while Amber finds herself going through child custody issues with her ex-husband (John Doe). With all of the turmoil surrounding Jack, Eddie, and their splintered group of friends, Eddie and Reed would face a troubling encounter with a dealer in Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) when their friend Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) tries to make things complicated in a deal gone wrong.
The film is about a group of dysfunctional people who form a family in an industry that doesn’t get a lot of respect as they hope to be accepted for who they are. In this family, there’s a wide group of people that are diverse and unique. Leading the pack is a porno filmmaker who sees his films as art as he tries to put some substance into his work. At his side is a porn star who is the mother of the group as she acts as a maternal figure to the younger stars while dealing with the fact that she doesn’t get to see her own kid. Then there’s this young kid who has a big penis that hopes to find something he can be proud of and not deal with his cruel mother.
It’s part of what Paul Thomas Anderson does as a storyteller in creating characters that are engaging but also striving to be somebody and feel proud of themselves. Jack Horner, Amber Waves, and Dirk Diggler are just among the group of people featured in this massive ensemble drama in the span of nearly a decade starring with the late 70s to the early 80s. The characters Anderson create are more than what they’re given as there’s a gay soundman who falls for Dirk, an African-American stereo salesman who loves country music, a high-school dropout who never takes off her roller-skates, and a porn actor that loves to do magic tricks and play rock n’ roll.
These are the kind of characters who don’t play to certain stereotypes of what many would perceive to be porn stars. In fact, there are a group of people who are quite intelligent that chooses to be in porn films because they want to be in porn films. Anderson doesn’t judge these people for who they are as they’re all quite flawed yet have something that the audience can be engaged by. The script is a classic rise and fall tale where a porn director, his top actor, and the people they’re with start to make something where it becomes a success and everyone seems to have a good time. Then comes the fall in the 1980s as excess, mismanagement, bad choices, and prejudice would test and splinter these people as they would all struggle with themselves and things they would encounter.
Anderson’s direction of the film is definitely vibrant in the way he shows the film as more than just an exploration into 70s porno chic. From the opening tracking shot where he has the camera walk into the club to the tense meeting Dirk, Reed, and Todd would have with Rahad Jackson. There is never a moment in the film that is dull or unimportant as Anderson makes sure that scenes of simple conversations, porno shoots, and troubling circumstances say something. There is a lot of style that Anderson chooses to go for as he utilizes these long tracking shots to either introduce characters or to capture an atmosphere of the location. The overall work that Anderson does is truly magnificent as he creates a very hypnotic and engrossing film.
Cinematographer Robert Elswit does an incredible job with the photography from capturing the vibrant and colorful lights of the discos and the sunny Californian exteriors for the scenes of the 70s. For the 80s sequences, the look remains the same but has a darker feel as there’s a lot of material shot at night to exemplify the tough circumstance the characters face throughout the film. Editor Dylan Tichenor does a brilliant job with the editing to maintain a leisured pace throughout while creating wonderful montages to exemplify the excitement of the 70s as well as the struggles the character go through in the 80s where the editing shifts what circumstance the characters go through.
Production designer Bob Ziembecki, along with set decorator Sandy Struth and art director Ted Berner, does a sensational job with the set pieces created such as Jack‘s lavish home and Maurice‘s disco to the stylish but eerie home of Rahad Jackson. Costume designer Mark Bridges does a fantastic job with the costumes created from the bellbottoms, hot pants, and the stylish clothing of the 70s to the more grimy look of 80s fashion. Sound editor Dane A. Davis does an excellent job with the sound from the way the parties are captured to the intimacy of Dirk’s first day working on a porno set.
The film’s score by Michael Penn is very wonderful for the array of moods created such as the soothing yet playful harmonium piece for the first half performed by Jon Brion to a more intense yet haunting score for its second half. Music supervisors Bobby Lavelle and Karyn Rachtman create an amazing soundtrack that is filled with lots of music from the 70s and 80s from acts like the Emotions, War with Eric Burdon, Electric Light Orchestra, the Commodores, Hot Chocolate, Rick Springfield, Night Ranger, Nena, and many others.
The casting by Christine Sheaks is superb as the ensemble cast that is created is truly one of the best casting jobs ever assembled. In small but notable roles, there’s Joanna Gleason as Eddie’s abusive mother, Nicole Ari Parker as Buck’s former girlfriend/porn star Becky Barnett, Jonathan Quint as a young porn star who threatens Dirk’s star power, X vocalist/bassist John Doe as Amber’s ex-husband, Kai Lennox as an old classmate that Rollergirl knew, Channon Roe as a guy Dirk meets in the film’s second half, Michael Penn as a music producer Dirk and Reed work with, and a couple of wonderful appearances from porn legends Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart with Hartley as Little Bill’s adulterous wife and Hart as a judge in Amber’s child custody case. In a small but chilling performance, Alfred Molina gives a scene-stealing performance as crazed drug dealer Rahad Jackson.
Other notable yet brilliant small supporting roles include Philip Baker Hall as the brash yet sleazy producer Floyd Gondoli, Ricky Jay as Jack’s filmmaking collaborator Kurt Longjohn, William H. Macy as Jack’s assistant director Little Bill, the late Robert Ridgely as Jack’s old financier/producer Colonel James, Melora Walters as Buck’s new porn star girlfriend Jessie St. Vincent, and Luis Guzman as the funny club owner Maurice Rodriguez. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as the sensitive yet caring Scotty who is in love with Dirk while John C. Reilly is great as the upbeat Reed Rothchild while bringing some great humor to his character. Don Cheadle is excellent as the sensitive yet country music-loving Buck Swope who is accused of not being black enough while just trying to be an all-around nice guy. Heather Graham is wonderful as the sexy yet innocent Rollergirl who likes to have fun while hoping to be accepted as a smart girl.
Julianne Moore is amazing as Amber Waves, a veteran porn star who tries to deal with her own custody issues while being the maternal figure to everyone around her. Burt Reynolds is superb as porn director Jack Horner as the man trying to make everyone feel proud of themselves while hoping to be respected while having to deal with changing times. Reynolds’ performance is definitely the best thing he’s done in his career as he displays a man that is trying to keep everything together. Finally, there’s Mark Wahlberg in his breakthrough performance as Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler where Wahlberg brings charisma and a boyish innocence to a young kid that wants to feel like he’s accomplished something while dealing with the anguish of losing his stardom and dealing with his drug addiction.
Boogie Nights is a remarkable film from Paul Thomas Anderson that features a truly outstanding ensemble cast. For anyone new to P.T. Anderson’s work will definitely see this as the best place to start for the way he can present scenes and handle a large ensemble cast. Featuring great technical work and a fun music soundtrack, it’s a film that revels in what was great about the world of 70s porn in its emphasis to be just as creative as any kind of film. In the end, Boogie Nights is a tremendous yet captivating film from Paul Thomas Anderson.
Paul Thomas Anderson Films: Sydney/Hard Eight - Magnolia - Punch-Drunk Love - There Will Be Blood - The Master - Inherent Vice - Junun - Phantom Thread
Related: The Short Films & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson
Related: The Short Films & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson
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