Making a compelling non X-rated movie about X rated topics requires finesse. Yesterday, this column reviewed “Star 80,” a successful such venture set in the world of adult entertainment in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Another movie set in this industry in the 1970s/1980s is “Boogie Nights,” from 1997.
“Boogie Nights” is loosely based on the story of X-rated film superstar John Holmes. It begins at a nightclub when porn director Jack Horner (played by Burt Reynolds) notices an attractive young busboy, Eddie Adams (played by Mark Wahlberg). He sees cinematic potential in him and begins to mentor him. Eventually, the former busboy renames himself Dirk Diggler and becomes a notorious star of pornographic movies. In the 1970s, his films are on the top at the top of the porn movie charts. But in the 1980s, his fortunes turn. The film side of the industry starts to decline as videotape becomes the more popular format. And like so many members of the entertainment industry, even beyond the porn world, Adams succumbs to drug addiction.
“Boogie Nights” is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who creates many memorable scenes. Among the best is a drug deal scene near the end. This is an impressive scene because it is unpredictable and features popular songs of the 1980s. It has great dialogue and builds to a great conclusion. Also, it features a fun cameo from Alfred Molina.
The cast is outstanding. Mark Wahlberg is very good in the lead role, taking Adams from being a quasi-innocent young adult to a leading man with all of the trappings of celebrity to the deterioration that comes from substance abuse. Burt Reynolds is also strong as Jack, a director dedicated to making plot-driven porn with narratives a cut above the standard at the time. Another great performance is by Julianne Moore, who plays Amber Waves, a star of some of Jack’s films. Both Reynolds and Moore earned Oscar nominations. Heather Graham is also quite good as Rollergirl, a young porn star who never takes off her skates.
With its great cast, great soundtrack, and interesting albeit sobering story, “Boogie Nights” ranks among Paul Thomas Anderson’s best films.