“It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s disgusting, it’s intense; really it’s everything you want from a movie.”
This review may contain spoilers of Boogie Nights. If you have not yet seen Boogie Nights, please do yourself a favour and watch it immediately.
Since December was my Christmas-themed review month, I wanted to end the year by watching/reviewing a movie that took place during New Year’s Eve. It turns out that New Year’s Eve is not as popular as Christmas in terms of movie settings, so I decided to narrow my scope and watch a movie with a scene that takes place on New Year’s Eve. I quickly decided that there was no better movie that fit this criteria than Boogie Nights. Boogie Nights is a film by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and is about a young man (Eddie Adams) who gets discovered by a porn director, and then is thrust into stardom thanks to his large talents. The film is able to not only show the seediness of the porn industry, but also the dangers of fame itself.
I would love to be able to say that Boogie Nights is my favourite Paul Thomas Anderson movie, but the fact of the matter is he has made too many good movies for that to be true. Regardless, Boogie Nights is definitely up there, and for good reasons. One thing that always amazes me about Boogie Nights is the fact that the film is able to manipulate your emotions so well. Watching Boogie Nights is literally an emotional roller coaster. The film spends it’s first half building you up with jokes and light-hearted subject matter, then when you’re at the peak it pulls out a baseball bat and repeatedly hits you in the face and stomach. This transition is so masterful because never once does it feel jarring, in fact it feels rather natural. The beginning of Boogie Nights is absolutely hilarious. Sure, maybe the story isn’t the happiest (boy leaves home due to rocky relationship with mother, then pursues a career in porn), but there are some real happy scenes there. First of all, you get to see Eddie Adams (a.k.a Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg) finally fit in somewhere. Even though their careers are making porn, the people that Eddie meets are a family, and more importantly they become his family. The beginning of the film also has a lot of comedy, mainly stemming from the very candid discussions bout sex that arise between characters. For us, sex is not something that is discussed at length, but for them it is just another day at the office. The film also gives us a wonderful look at the 70’s (and then later, the 80’s), which also allows us to laugh at the trends that were prevalent as well as the predictions for the future that many characters have. Then New Year’s happens. Not only does the New Year’s Eve scene feature my absolute favourite shot from the movie, but it also marks the turning point of the story. After the New Year’s scene everything goes to shit, and the movie pulls out that baseball bat that I mentioned before. What was once funny turns into a disgusting look at what drugs and fame (the worst drug of all) can really do to a person, especially someone like Dirk. We see everyone fall from grace in very spectacular manners, each in their own way. Be it Jack Horner who is fighting the changing landscape of the porn industry, or Dirk himself (and his crew) who find themselves fighting the changing landscape of their fame. Everything that the movie built up in its first half comes crashing down right on top of you in a harsh dose of reality.
Boogie Nights works not only because of its brilliant story structure, but also because of its flawless writing. Boogie Nights, just like all other stories, has lulls in its narrative. These are usually setting up scenes that are going to happen in the future. What Boogie Nights has that many movies don’t, is the fact that even though there may be story lulls, there is always something going on. Boogie Nights is a two and a half hour movie, but it goes by in a flash, and that is because it is so intriguing to watch. Just seeing the characters interact with one another is enough to keep me interested for many lifetimes. Every single character is so well written it almost exemplifies the advice of “If you know your characters inside and out, their dialogue will write itself”. Even characters that were smaller in part to the larger story had very rich personalities which only made Boogie Nights feel all the more real. And of course the writing isn’t the only thing that made the characters great, because very single performance in Boogie Nights is also phenomenal. It would be hard for me to go through every single one, but rest assured that every single character in this movie does not only a great job at “filling out the scene”, but they are all able to bring it in their respective emotional highlights if you will.
Boogie Nights is not only a film that is masterfully written, but it is masterfully put together as well. The film takes place in the 70’s, so you have all of the wonderful set and costume designs that really capture the era. You also have the amazing soundtrack that not only captures the time period and tone of the film, but it also features countless kick-ass songs. And finally you have what I would call the star of the film, the long takes and tracking shots. Boogie Nights could be called ‘Tracking Shot: The Movie” with how may wonderful tracking shots the film features. Now tracking shots are absolutely amazing because they require skill on literally every front. You have to make sure that the camera is steady, you have to make sure that the actors are ready, you have to make sure tat there is a path for the camera to follow the actor, and you have to create a situation with ‘dynamic sound’ (where people are silent util they are on camera, but with the camera always moving this can prove difficult). Even though all of these things are working against you when you decide to do a tracking shot, Paul Thomas Anderson decided to feature not just one but many in Boogie Nights. Not only are these shots really beautiful to watch, but they also give the movie a sense of realism. It makes the movie feel alive, with everyone doing their own thing at the same time much like what happens in real life. That fact, coupled with the sheer skill it takes to pull these shots off, makes every time a tracking shot happens magical to witness (and luckily there is no shortage of them in Boogie Nights).
Overall Boogie Nights is the kind of movie that is perfect from start to finish. It gives you a realistic (I think) look at the porn industry in the 70’s, but it also allows you to see the dangers of fame and other mind-altering drugs. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s disgusting, it’s intense; really it’s everything you want from a movie.
I give Boogie Nights an A