Before Mark Wahlberg was making friends with giant alien autobots—as you will find him doing in Michael Bay’s latest Transformers movie this weekend—he was making pornos in 1970s California. By that, I mean he was playing the iconic role of Dirk Diggler, the well-endowed porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.
Boogie Nights is quite possibly my favorite movie of Marky Mark, and that’s not just because he was continuing to give women “Good Vibrations” since 1991. This movie, despite its explicit content, is actually a really well-written story with a lot of emotion, humor, and dynamic characters. It has a way of reminding the audience that “porn stars are people too.”
Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a high school dropout who is going nowhere fast. He is discovered by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) while working at a nightclub. Jack introduces him into the porn industry, and Eddie takes on the porn name “Dirk Diggler,” giving up his old life for good. He moves in with Jack, and he quickly rises to stardom. He is introduced to fellow porn stars Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham), as well as Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), who Dirk Diggler stars in multiple humorous action porn films that become a huge hit. The story plays out kind of like how you would expect a movie about a famous rock star to play out, with the rise and fall of the main character in the entertainment industry, however, it’s not just about Dirk Diggler, it’s about the ups and downs of many characters you come to care about throughout the film.
All of the characters are flawed, each have their own personal issues, and their careers in the porn industry are usually the reason for these problems. For example, Amber has a kid who she never sees and ultimately finds herself in a custody battle with her ex-husband, which she has small chance of winning due to her job in the porn industry as well as the abuse of illegal drugs that comes with it. Rollergirl finds herself disrespected by a former high school classmate, and she feels the hurt and embarrassment that comes with being judged by your profession. Jack struggles for his films to remain relevant in the porn industry and the film industry as a whole. With the technological medium changing from film to videotape and the lack of good scripts, Jack becomes frustrated, desperate, and sometimes loses control of his usual mellow self. Dirk’s quick rise of success eventually gets to his head, and he lets that rock star type of life, with all the drugs and expensive things, overtake him and change him from the innocent (relative term) and naive kid to a spoiled and materialistic guy who thinks the world owes him something.
There’s also plenty of other interesting, but smaller characters like Little Bill (William H. Macy) whose wife is so terrible, she has sex with other men right in front of him and all of his friends. There’s also Todd Parker (Thomas Jane) who has an interesting scene with Dirk where he tries to scam a crazy drug dealer. Dirk also has to avoid the advances of Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the homosexual boom operator. Then there’s Buck (Don Cheadle), who tries to make a new life for himself and pregnant wife by opening a stereo equipment store, but can’t get a loan because of his involvement in the porn industry.
Most of these characters end up down on their luck at some point in the film, and as in any realistic situation, not all of them bounce back. Even with all of the comedy and outrageous scenarios involved, this is quite a dark movie.
There’s plenty of characters to take in, but I don’t think the abundance of characters with their own story lines take away from the central plot at all, especially when they are all being played by extremely talented actors. All of their stories intertwine in some way, and they are all members of one big porn family. For the most part, they take care of each other, or try to, but it’s not always possible seeing as how they are all screwed up in one way or another.
Boogie Nights is a dark story about how these characters are basically trapped in the porn industry, with their backgrounds allowing them to do not much else, and the lifestyle influencing them to make wrong, life-changing decisions. There’s a lot of dark humor and a lot of great performances. The whole 70s feel really comes alive as well with the set designs, costumes and music. I have to say even the end of this movie just feels right, with Dirk Diggler looking in the mirror and pulling out his penis (don’t worry, it’s prosthetic!) It’s his one prized possession. Thanks to the amazing writing and directing by Paul Thomas Anderson, this is one movie I will likely never get tired of watching.