I had always been interested in seeing “Boogie Nights.” And for those of you who happen to know the film’s subject matter, no, it’s not because I wanted to see certain things. Released in 1997, the movie features plenty of today’s stars long before they had the luster and prestige their names bear now. Five members of the ensemble have since been nominated for Oscars, and an actor who wasn’t even given top billing has even won an Oscar.
In an effort to see some of Julianne Moore’s finest roles, I decided it was time to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s Academy Award-nominated second feature. The movie was her breakout, earning her notices from everyone, including the first of her four Oscar nominations. But it’s not just to feature her that “Boogie Nights” is my “F.I.L.M. of the Week;” the entire ensemble shines in a true work of artistry by Anderson.
I can’t dance around the topic any longer – this is a movie about the adult entertainment industry, in Los Angeles during the ’70s and ’80s. Director Jack Horner is looking for an actor to build an empire around, someone who can do more than just look good. He finds just that in Eddie Adams, a young nightclub employee with talents that Horner seeks. Changing his name to Dirk Diggler, Horner’s discovery becomes the star he always dreamed of.
But the bigger Diggler’s star becomes, the closer he moves towards becoming a supernova. His fame has made him violently angry and cocky. He has also spiraled into severe drug abuse and addiction. Soon enough, he finds that his greatest asset for his job doesn’t function the way he wants. Diggler slowly drops towards rock bottom, and thanks to a strong performance by Mark Wahlberg, it’s a gripping journey to watch. See, the stories of fame in the adult film industry are no different than any other entertainment industry.
As I said earlier, there is quite the ensemble at work here, including John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, and William H. Macy as members of Diggler’s posse. It’s quite fun to see them in their younger years, just getting started in Hollywood. He was leagues away from stardom at the time, but a definite standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman as a crew member infatuated with Diggler. He plays an unsettling character, and it’s nailed with the precision we now regularly associate with Hoffman.
The women are great, too. Heather Graham, who most people don’t take seriously, is seriously brilliant as Rollergirl, an actress who does all her movies wearing rollerskates. Anderson wrote the character with great depth, exploring her insecurities and weaknesses. Graham goes there with him, truly shocking us not only by how good she is but how far she is willing to take her character. And then there’s Julianne Moore, who entered mainstream consciousness for her portrayal of Amber Waves. She acts as a mother figure to Diggler, yet at the same time, she finds herself very attracted to him. Moore can play both objectives well, but she’s at her best when they clash.
In only his second movie, Paul Thomas Anderson handles “Boogie Nights” with the precision of a Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, sharing the former’s knack for great camerawork and the latter’s ability to select great music. Now that I’ve seen this, I have to wonder why I like his later movies so much less.