Boogie Nights is a film that starts out really slow, has little conflict and then decides to pick up the pace and make a whole bunch of things go wrong. At the lead is Mark Wahlberg playing a 17-year-old named Eddie Adams, who works in the kitchen of a nightclub. He’s approached one night by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), who has heard a rumor that Eddie has a very large penis. It turns out, he does, so Jack decides to cast Eddie in pornographic films. I don’t recall if it’s ever mentioned if Eddie turned 18 before the first role he gets, but I’m thinking that this point doesn’t matter.
Eddie, who now goes by the name “Dirk Digler”, becomes a star seemingly overnight. He’s helped out by his naturally large appendage, but also because he has enthusiasm and durability — something that Boogie Nights has taught me is beneficial when you’re shooting pornography. After not concluding one of his scenes properly, he tells everyone that they can just go again, much to the surprise of the crew. He wins awards for his first film, and with the earnings manages to buy a house, car, and pretty much anything else he wants. He’s king of the business in just a few months.
But, movies can’t just have someone become successful and then just have the credits roll. Where’s the tension? What is there to entertain us other than a nice guy who is now a porn star? Well, this comes both from our lead character later on, as well as the secondary characters. It turns out that Eddie is not mature enough to handle his new-found fame, and ends up being overwhelmed by the experience. All the while, our background characters are dealing with their own problems.
Supporting Mark Wahlberg are great, or at least well-known, actors like Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Thomas Jane and the aforementioned Burt Reynolds. Even Alfred Molina makes an appearance. This is a film carried by the supporting actors, which allow much of the 70’s and 80’s culture to shine through. If this film was only about one man and his journey through the porn world, it would probably get fairly boring. By including all of these other characters, we are rarely uninterested in what’s going on, at least, once the first hour or so of the film passes by.
Boogie Nights gets off to a really slow start. All that the first hour has is the rise of Dirk Diggler in the industry, with absolutely no conflict or anything to keep us interested. It does, however, give us a lot of time to get to know these characters and get a feeling of what the porn industry was like in the late 1970’s. As a matter of fact, replace the pornography industry with Hollywood, and you’d have a very similar film, except then it might be more difficult to have the characters get involved in such shady activities later on, or draw in a bunch of people who are simply “curious” about the film’s subject matter.
In that regard, Boogie Nights actually plays it safe about what we actually see in regards to the characters doing their job in the porn business. Oh, there are most definitely some shots that you’d be better off not to watch as a family, but the nudity shown fits the story and doesn’t seem excessive. At least, not as excessive as a film about pornography easily could have been, so good on director Paul Thomas Anderson for keeping things somewhat tasteful.
Boogie Nights would probably completely fall apart without the supporting cast though. Everyone gets a separate side story, and it’s wonderful to see them all come together and not feel distracting. There are so many different mini-stories that take place in this movie, and it’s because of this, and Eddie’s continuing decline, that we stay interested and entertained. Well, that, and the fact that this movie is essentially a love-letter to the late 70’s and early 80’s.
What this film does best is accurately reflect the time period that it’s set in. The sets, costumes, hairstyles, soundtrack, everything works towards making us feel like we’re there. There’s nothing that feels outlandish or takes us out of the moment. Instead, for two and a half hours, we’re transported back into the past, and we get to experience a culture that is somewhat different from our current one. Boogie Nights is more about that culture than the pornography industry, as a matter of fact, but it needs the latter in order to tell a decent story while still accurately reflecting the times.
It’s not a film without some basic flaws, like the runtime. This would have worked better as a two hour film instead of being two and a half hours in length, and there is some cheese which takes you out of the seriousness of the story. For example, whenever Eddie shows off his enormity, the look on the person’s face — we don’t actually get to see it until the final shot of the film — will make you laugh more than it likely should. And the film also takes a very gory turn at one point, which seemed out of place.
On the whole, Boogie Nights tells a pretty decent story while successfully capturing the era it was set in, something that seemed like the mission right from the very beginning. It brings a great number of side stories together, and makes for a satisfying watch, even if its subject matter may be off-putting (or intriguing, I suppose) to some people. If you want to go back in time and experience the late 70’s one more time, this film will not disappoint, even if you do end up staying there a bit longer than you may want.