Boogie Nights (1997) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
There's something about Paul Thomas Anderson's oeuvre that makes me think he just really needs a hug. His characters attempt to explore the more extreme edges of humanity and reveal something about "human nature" that maybe we find disgustingly beautiful. That's a hypothesis that I don't really want to delve further into simply because I don't want to have to face the consequences of myself being wrong. The only other alternative I see, and I really don't want to be lead down this road, is that the figures present in his movies teeter on inhuman, simply because they only are caricatures of themselves.
This is the case with "There Will Be Blood" which has powerful performances if anything but human. I feel this way about "Magnolia" as well. Anderson owes a lot to Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese and frankly, if you've seen "Short Cuts" and "Goodfellas" you won't be surprised by anything you find here.
"Boogie Nights" starts of with a pretty compelling premise: open the doors to the pornography industry in its preliminary stages during the 70s, then track its process as technology helped make it more accessible to everyday people and wham! you've got a hit. But it's not so simple, because we need a "fall from grace" saga as well that warns us, yet again, that opulence may not be the best lifestyle. And so the film rolls over, and so do my eyes.
Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) wants to be a famous something. He's working at a night club and staying with his unstable parents. One of the first clues that we have about the movie's trajectory is a scene in which his mother tells him he's really dumb and that he should run away from home with nothing since he didn't buy anything. Besides the fact that this cruelty is only a plot device to make out character jump into porn (and thus, negating any second-wave feminist ideas that he could do porn because he wants to), it's way too early in an already long movie for me to care about anything.
Much like "Pulp Fiction" or any Scorsese flick ever, the movie flits and flirts with the time period while introducing many new characters to the camera in increasingly glamorous ways. There is no question that "Boogie Nights" is a fantastic looking movie. These colorful characters include Buck Swope (Don Cheadle) a sound mixer and pornstar, Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) another porn actor who desperately wants to impress everyone, and Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) a 'film director' with a knack for finding new talent.
As Eddie comes into the porn world he is treated to a new side of riches that he has never seen before, and naturally, it only takes until the 80s before shit starts hitting the fan. At the turn of the decade, in true cliche fashion, the aggressive use of drugs is introduced to the baby-faced newly named Dirk Diggler—Eddie's alter ego—and the intensity of the movie starts to amp up.
One minor note that I think is important to note is the use of homosexuality as a use for the bottom of the pit to which characters fall. It's not particularly uncommon—and besides the fact that multiple characters hit their lowest point at the same exact time on the same exact street—but it is unsettling to see these conceptions...then again, it was made in the 90s, so what am I trying to say?
As the movie comes and goes it feels too short. The emotional highs and lows of periphery characters like Little Bill (William H. Macy) are just there for shock factor, sort of a deliberate and flashy sentiment that reminds us that we are both watching a movie and supposed to feel bad for these characters.
There is no denying Paul Thomas Anderson's talent because "Boogie Nights", if anything, is immaculately constructed.  What it lacks is some sort of purpose. At the end of a long meandering plot, we are treated to a "Raging Bull" mirror pep talk and a shot of the infamously long penis and we have to ask ourselves, was it really worth it? Who cares if Dirk Diggler is a rock star with mommy issues and drug problem? In Hollywood movies, those are a dime a dozen.
Or maybe that was the point.

Score: ★★½


  1. Excellent analysis of this film, especially from a millennial perspective.
    That homosexuality represented degradation and shame was indeed totally accurate for the 1970s, if not the 90s...and the film might have displayed a layer of wisdom and humanity had that been treated with more perspective and humanity. My heart bleeds for the poor Philip Seymour Hoffman character who only wants a cute boyfriend!

    I think the production design here is brilliant and accurate, and the performances are flawless, so this movie still works for me, though. You are so astute about Anderson owing a lot of his style to the amazing Robert Altman--this movie and especially Magnolia really do have a Short Cuts-type feel.

    Love your amazing blog!