movie film review | chris tookey

Boogie Nights

© Unknown - all rights reserved
  Boogie Nights Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
8.00 /10
Eddie/Dirk ............... Mark Wahlberg, Jack Horner .............. Burt Reynolds , Amber Waves .............. Julianne Moore
Full Cast >

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Released: 1997
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 152

Life and times of a Seventies porn star (Mark Wahlberg).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

This black comedy about the 1970s porn industry was hailed variously as the new GoodFellas (Martin Scorseseís warts-and-all expose of the Mafia) or the new The Player (Robert Altmanís spoof of Hollywood). For good measure, its 26 year-old writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson was touted as ďthe new TarantinoĒ.

The film offers one insight into the porn industry - that it offers a surrogate family to people with no family of their own. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a 17 year-old dishwasher seduced into the industry by its spurious ďglamourĒ and willing women. Under the name Dirk Diggler, he finds fame not because of any acting talent but thanks to his teenage stamina and prodigious physical equipment. Predictably, he starts to believe his own publicity, takes to drugs and breaks with his Svengali and father-protector, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds).

Horner may be a no-talent pornographer, but in the porn world he passes for an artist. ďIt is my dream,Ē he pontificates, ďto make a film that is true, thatís right, thatís dramatic.Ē

Over the course of the film, we see his pretensions become increasingly absurd, until he becomes a pathetic figure, working on his most despised medium - video - and picking young men off the street to have sex in the back of his limo with his surrogate daughter. Reynolds plays the part with just the right, fragile dignity, as a money-grubbing pimp who canít even live up to the comically low standards heís set himself.

Hornerís leading lady Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) is far from bright, and tearfully estranged from her own son; consequently, she acts as a mother-figure to those around her. However, sheís such a dysfunctional parent, introducing her surrogate son to cocaine and condoning her surrogate daughterís self-destructive sex sessions, that any pity one feels for her loss of her real son is offset by the knowledge that she would be a terrible influence.

An unusual feature of the movie is that, although the actingís pretty good, thereís practically no audience involvement. Itís hard to know if weíre meant to laugh at Dirk and his pals because theyíre so dumb, or sympathise because theyíre so vulnerable.

Because of the movieís detachment, itís fatally weightless. Take one of the subsidiary characters, a porno stage-manager called Little Bill, played (rather well) by William H. Macy. Thereís a running gag about him constantly walking in on his wife making love to some other man, and being rebuked by his wife for embarrassing her. Eventually, the laughter is meant to freeze on our faces as Little Bill takes bloody revenge, before blowing his own brains out.

Well, fine - except that Billís killings have no effect whatsoever on the other characters. It doesnít make them question their way of life, their values, or the effects of their activities on the people around them.

Like all the big action set-pieces (there are three bloodbaths in all), the event just seems calculated to appeal to those who are in the market for a post-Tarantino massacre. Itís symptomatic of the movieís superficiality that, just when it could have become most searing and emotional, it opts instead for cheap sensation.

Anderson crams in so many sub-plots - there are at least four more which I havenít room to mention - that he hasnít time to delve deep into peopleís backgrounds or motivation. And the plot is so shapeless and sprawling that it resembles a TV mini-series more than a movie.

So is Boogie Nights any good? Itís lively, energetic and shows unmistakable signs of directorial talent. So did Andersonís first, more reflective film, Hard Eight . There are some brilliant scenes, itís full of authentic detail, and I was never bored. Despite a lot of bad language and worse behaviour, Boogie Nights is not pornography. On the contrary, itís very unerotic and - relatively - free of nudity.

But, at two and a half hours, it is - like its leading manís physical equipment - grotesquely overlength. It strives to be satire, but ends up as a sneer. Eager to poke fun at the dress-sense of the Seventies, itĎs something of a fashion victim itself. Itís so cool, hip and non-judgmental - those ominous buzz-words of fashion-led, Nineties film-reviewing - that it offers a disappointingly twee, sanitised view of the world it describes.

How can this be an authentic depiction when it steers clear of mentioning such well-documented characteristics as sexually transmitted diseases, the intimidation of actresses, the industryís underpinning by organised crime? What kind of a film waxes nostalgic about 70s porn while ignoring its adverse effects on society, or its subsequent growth into a multi-billion dollar business?

Yes, Boogie Nights is a promising piece of directorial apprentice-work. But itís also a glib, cynical, exploitation picture, with less emotional depth than a novel by Jacqueline Susann.

Key to Symbols