Boogie Nights (New Line Cinema) wants to be something bigger, and could have been. But writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson too-narrowly focuses the subject of the film.
Chronicling the change in the porn industry during the 1970s and 1980s as it devolved from film to videotape, Boogie Nights is authentic. Everything from the clothes and dialogue, to the month a song was released is true to the era.
But Anderson did not make the film to show these changes.
The movie focused on five characters played by Mark Wahlberg (Basketball Diaries), Burt Reynolds (Striptease), Julianne Moore (Lost World), Don Cheadle (Devil in a Blue Dress) and Heather Graham (Swingers). They form a dysfunctional “family” in the porn business.
Viewers might expect this film either to plumb the human side to the industry or shock with sexual content. Though the sex in the film is shocking, sex could not be considered the film’s focus.
However, Boogie Nights is not completely about the human aspect of the industry, either.
If Anderson chose, he could bring in more details about the changes the porn industry went through during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
There’s room there.
If Anderson chose, he could make the movie about the struggle of man. Details about Amber Waves’ (Moore) addiction to cocaine and struggle to get her son back would flesh out the human side. The gap between Dirk Diggler’s (Wahlberg) first try of cocaine and his decline back to masturbating for $10 a pop could be explored. Rollergirl’s (Graham) life and Jack Horner’s (Reynolds) business could have benefited from more details.
There’s room there.
If Anderson chose, he could have completely sold out and gone for the kinky sex aspect. Though the audience does get a whiff of what the sex was like in pornos of the 1970s, Anderson could have shown more.
There’s room there, too.
But the film is still worth seeing. The authenticity and inherent lure of the porn industry carry it. A filmmaker would be hard-pressed to make an uninteresting film about pornography.
The performances by Reynolds, Wahlberg, Cheadle, Graham and Moore are outstanding even though none of the characters’ full stories appear on screen.
Graham’s innocence plays well for her young, porno-star character. Reynolds’ and Moore’s parent-like roles wrap the characters together like a family.
Cheadle plays his character of low self-esteem with the finesse only someone who completely understands the feeling can. And Wahlberg, though straying from his character a few times, does a phenomenal job portraying the young and not-so-innocent kid-turned-porn-star.
Even with holes in the plot and glaring potential for the movie to go further, it is an enjoyable watch for anyone interested in learning about the industry. Full-frontal nudity is shown, so watchers beware.
Boogie Nights is now playing.