Movie Review: Boogie Nights (1997)

Title: Boogie Nights
Release Date: October 10, 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Production Company: Lawrence Gordon Productions | Ghoulardi Film Company

Set over the years 1977-1984 in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Boogie Nights is the story of Eddie (Mark Wahlberg), a busboy at a nightclub recruited by the idealistic adult films director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), to be an actor in his X-rated movies.  Taking the stage name Dirk Diggler, he rises to a superstar level within the porn industry.  This movie has the familiar feel to of a typical show business story of a meteoric rise to fame followed by a descent into drug abuse and violence.  And it is all those things, but it also is disarmingly sweet.

Dirk forms a found family with Jack and fellow actors Maggie (Julianne Moore), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and Reed (John C. Reilly).  I suspect the adult entertainment industry, like the movie industry in general, is ripe for abuse and exploitation, but I suspect that it is also plausible for a group of outsiders to come together as a community in a place where they feel like themselves as depicted in this movie.

What makes this movie great is that each of these characters is shown in their full humanity.  It helps that this movie features some amazingly talented actors.  Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all appear in smaller parts that are nonetheless fully-realized characters.  And yes, I do see the irony of great acting being the biggest strength in a movie about pornographic films.

If I can quibble with this film, it’s main flaw is that its runtime is too long and might feel less ponderous if given some judicious trimming.  I also felt that the running gag about Eddie/Dirk’s large penis kind of undercut the sympathetic and non-judgmental tone of portraying these outcasts as real people.  Still, I never thought that I would like this movie at all, and I ended up being really impressed.  It’s definitely not the movie I thought it would be and that’s a great thing.

Rating: ****