Drugs are bad, but there are no rhetorical questions to ask on the subject because all questions have an answer. It’s just a tragedy in inevitability. You take them because you’re an idiot and you get hooked. That’s not all drugs, obviously. But I’m talking about Boogie Nights (1997), so I’m talking about cocaine. I just find it so annoying–drugs, that is.
Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) is a young idiot who works in Maurice’s (Luis Guzmán) night club. The club is frequented by porn director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and his star, Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and actors Buck (Don Cheadle) and Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly). Rollergirl (Heather Graham) also works there. These will become Eddie’s best friends. They are, to a person, incredibly stupid. And they’re all pornographers–the writers of prostitution. Eddie takes on the name of Dirk Diggler, apparently that’s an awesome name. Things go well for a while, then things get pretty bad, then things kind of get alright, maybe.
There’s a new insult I’m working on: This person should write for porn. Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote and directed Boogie Nights, does a great job in writing poorly. Intentionally writing someone who is a complete moron and then aping porn dialogue is, I imagine, very difficult to do. You have to imagine a plausibly implausible misunderstanding. Dirk says at one point:
What can you expect when you’re on top? You know? It’s like Napoleon. When he was the king, you know, people were just constantly trying to conquer him, you know, in the Roman Empire. So, it’s history repeating itself all over again.
That’s genius. And it’s sad. This movie is sad.
Every character is inadequate in some way. That is the essential driving force of the whole enterprise. Eddie is stupid and comes from a dysfunctional home and he’s got one enormous gift. His room is covered in the symbols of greatness–hot babes, kung fu films, a Corvette. His life’s work is to attain these things. The peak of sophistication for Eddie is to import it from Italy. But he’s just a stud–in every sense of the word.
Jack is a director that doesn’t seem to do much direction. But he’s got an eye for talent, I suppose. It’s him who picks Eddie out of the crowd. But he has this vision, shared by many 15 year old boys, to make adult movies actually have a story worth watching. With Dirk, Jack actually believes that he’s accomplished his goal. I don’t think I’ve seen Reynolds act better.
Amber’s inadequacy is her failure as a mother. She fills this inadequacy with her young pornographic protegees. That’s an Oedipus complex writ large and then filmed. But, luckily for her, everyone else has a complimentary vacancy in their life. Eddie’s mother wasn’t Miss Congeniality and we never even see Rollergirl’s family. It’d be weird if it wasn’t so darn sad.
Anderson was 27 when this movie came out. It was his first hit–but Hard Eight (1996) looks promising–and is all the more impressive for it. Though, looking on IMDB, it would appear he’d worked on the concept for eight or nine years since his first short film, The Dirk Diggler Story (1988). I guess he knew he had something.
I once read an article in Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace–what is it with these three name people?–about the porn industry through the lens of an awards ceremony. Both the article and the movie captured something about the industry–it sucks. It’s pathetic and sad.
It isn’t that they couldn’t have an adjusted, semi-sane perspective on the industry along the same lines that a stripper or investment banker might, it’s that they don’t. They don’t see themselves as people who happen to have this job. They don’t see themselves at all.
It’s like they live in a dream. Not a great, wondrous dream, but that normal kind of dream where you and other people say strange things to one another. They continue on these stories they seem to have no control over. The last Thomas Jane scene–I love Tom Jane!–is the dreamiest of them all. Only in their darkest, least drug-induced moments do they have a glimpse of reality and it isn’t pretty.
There are a lot of elements in this movie and I can’t cover them all–hey William H. Macy and his wife and Philip Seymour Hoffman, I love them!–unless I did what Anderson did and seriously crafted this review. Well, I don’t have eight years or, rather, I’m not willing to use them for this. That weaving is what I like most about the movie.
Here’s proof-positive that you can have an ensemble work and give everyone their due without drowning an audience. For extra credit, it shows that you can have a long movie (two and a half hours) and keep focus–well, maybe not everyone’s. Some of that is due to the fact that these guys are very simple and there isn’t much in the way of range. Or, rather, within that range are very few discernible points.
Now obviously, children, this movie has some very naughty things in it. It doesn’t have an awfully large amount of naughty things in it and they don’t get as naughty as you might expect. Still, its presentation is such that it isn’t really sexy (to me, anyway) because it’s so clinical. The final scene isn’t so much clinical as grotesque. The vulgarity comes in the language they use, rather than their activities. Forewarned is forearmed. I thought about saying “foreskinned” but it was a joke without meaning and who needs that?
This is a really good movie. It probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s a thinker (despite its subject), filled with terrific performances, and quite funny throughout. It’s well worth owning. Watch it twice.