Review: Boogie Nights (1997)

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The greatest feat of Paul Thomas Anderson’s career was making us think Mark Wahlberg could act!

Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson

After the glow of watching a movie such as Boogie Nights had worn off, a few things immediately sprang to mind. First, I had completely forgotten how much I loved this film and how well made it really was. I know I’ll get into that more in the review proper, but I felt the need to get that off my chest right away. Secondly, it is amazing how much the porn industry has changed, but at the same time society has not changed its view towards porn one bit. Finally, how many people seem to think Boogie Nights doesn’t have any greater meaning other than to chronicle the lives of these people. It’s as if the crystal clear themes of family, capitalism, stardom and chance flew right over these peoples heads. I watch Boogie Nights and I see a film full of meaning that takes a look at the porn industry but also uses the porn industry as an allegory for issues faced by people in every walk of life. I watch Boogie Nights and I fail to see how anyone can walk away declaring it a great, but ultimately pointless movie. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

When discussing Boogie Nights what I find most fascinating is the style and direction of Paul Thomas Anderson. Sure, most of the tracking shots, the crane shots, etc. are taken from other directors and other movies, but that is film. Directors have been taking ideas or techniques from other filmmakers since the inception of film, it’s just a matter of whether or not you can make the techniques work in your picture and give them some of your own style in the process. Anderson most certainly does this with his camera, but he also gives the film its own style through his authentic recreation of the 70’s and early 80’s. A major boon in this would be the soundtrack of Boogie Nights, a collection of great tunes that are fine on their own but every song fits its scene perfectly.

Anderson is a director, and writer, who favors the ensemble cast and Boogie Nights is a shining example of why he works so well with ensemble casts. As I said in my by line, he makes us believe Markey Mark is a good actor, so that says something right there. Beyond that each performance and actor work off of their fellow thespian, Don Cheadle is great as Buck, but he’s even better because of how great Burt Reynolds is as Jack, while he’s even better because of Julianne Moore as Amber, and so on. John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the list could go on, but Boogie Nights is full of great character actors and actors period, with not a one of them seeming out of place or lagging behind the others.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I do find great meaning and purpose in Boogie Nights. It touches on issues such as sexuality, violence, drugs, homophobia as a mask for homosexuality, business, crime, but it touches most upon the idea of family and the humanization of the porn industry. The Horner troupe is in every way imaginable a giant family, a highly dysfunctional one, but a family just like any other family that exists in the world. For people who are able to accept the lifestyle these people have chosen you quickly realize that their fears and failures may be manifested differently, but they carry the same sentiment and power as those of your own family. Your family may not have to deal with drugs brought on by an immersion in the porno business, but it more than likely has had to deal with family rifts brought upon by destructive outside influences. Boogie Nights chronicles the porn business in the 70’s to early 80’s in exquisite fashion, but it also offers up a healthy look at family and all that it can offer, both hurtful and helpful. It does so by making the characters human, by putting human touches on people that for some reason society views as less than a normal human, and without any sort of sentimentality shows just how stupid any person is who ever took that viewpoint of the people in porn.

For all its strengths there were two minor things that hurt Boogie Nights. First, and this is present in any Hollywood movie that deals with showing sex, the fellatio scenes were bad. Intercourse was handled well, but like usual fellatio looked more comic than real and in that way you’re taken out of the illusion for a moment and realize that Rollergirl isn’t really going down on Dirk, but rather that Heather Graham is faking going down on Mark Wahlberg. I know this may sound like a crude criticism to some, but it is something that took me out of the film the few times it was shown, and it is a problem that I don’t think has any solution in a non-pornographic film. My other problem was the final image of Boogie Nights. The build-up to that reveal was handled perfectly, throughout the film the idea of Dirk’s penis was given grandiose treatment, and that final reveal was the right way to go. The problem with the unveiling was it being quite fake. I know this isn’t a problem for most, but for me it was, because it was another moment that took me out of the film.

Boogie Nights is my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film and I would say his best. It isn’t as epic in scope as There Will Be Blood or as ambitious as Magnolia, but it features the right amount of ambition and epic nature combined with a comedic yet dark nature. I still have to see Anderson’s other major releases, Sydney and Punch-Drunk Love, but as of right now I remain enamored with Boogie Nights out of the rest of Anderson’s work. If you have any misgivings about Boogie Nights because of its content then you need to get past those misgivings because it is a film worth seeing. Boogie Nights is a work of art, and one of the best films of the 90’s, a film that has many messages and certainly isn’t pointless.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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4 responses to “Review: Boogie Nights (1997)

  1. Here here.

  2. Fun, hilarious, fast-paced, and overall just a great piece of cinema. I never knew what their intentions were with this one, but whatever they were, they did a good job with it. Check out my review when you can!

  3. Cilla – Thanks

    Rok – A fun romp is what I took their intentions as, but you’re right, no matter what they did a good job with it.

  4. Pingback: Review: Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962) | Bill's Movie Emporium

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