BOOGIE NIGHTS is a movie that mixes two of my favorite
things -- Marky Mark and pornography. I'm being sarcastic, of course.
Like PULP FICTION, this is an intelligent epic of the
tasteless, a movie that makes sweeping points about our society and
has likeable people doing reprehensible things. Written and directed
by Paul Thomas Anderson, BOOGIE NIGHTS forgoes the gynecology
and eroticism in painting sex as cold, emotionless and mainly just a
commodity, and its success is finding the humor of '70s porn business
as well as the sadness.
In that sense, it's like THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLINT,
alternating between being fascinating and funny in its realistic
portrayal of the motivations of pornographers and focusing on the
empty lives of those who make their living this way. Its main actors,
Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds, are two people I'd never thought
I'd praise, but they do great work in BOOGIE NIGHTS, as do the
people you'd expect to kick ass, like Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle
(from ROSEWOOD) and William H. Macy.
The story begins in 1977, as 17-year-old Wahlberg is washing
dishes in a nightclub populated by an adult filmmaker (Burt Reynolds,
in perhaps his most disgusting hairpiece yet). Reynolds likes what he
sees in young Wahlberg -- youth, muscle tone, a 13-inch penis -- and
entices him back to his den of sin, where Wahlberg gets it on with
fellow high school student Rollergirl (Heather Graham), who never
removes her roller skates. After a pool party, Wahlberg agrees to join
the porn star family under the name Dirk Diggler.
It's in these early scenes that we meet the other family
members. There's Moore, a single mother who has been denied
custody of her children because she's, well, a coke whore, acting as
surrogate mother and sex partner to the other porn stars instead.
Cheadle is a second-string actor hoping to make it big in the world of
stereo sales, Macy is one of the crew and can't seem to keep his wife
(real-life porno queen Nina Hartley) from humping everything in sight
and John C. Reilly is Wahlberg's best friend and a damn good porn
actor in his own right.
In about 150 minutes, BOOGIE NIGHTS covers five years in
the pornography industry, from the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler to the
decline of porn as an art form. That's the funniest thing about this
movie, the conviction held by all the characters that they're making
something significant. The Reynolds character's main goal is to make
a XXX-rated movie that is so good that its customers stay in the
theater long after sticky-ing up the floor and Dirk helps him out by
making some hilarious action hero porno flicks.
BOOGIE NIGHTS, like LARRY FLINT, humanizes something
most people don't think of as very worthy of epic treatment. A lot of its
middle scenes, the ones involving Dirk's brief recording career and the
imminent arrival of videotape as the medium for porno, are amusing,
but the closing scenes pack a punch. This is the kind of movie that
makes you laugh, (maybe) makes you cry and makes you sit in shock.
It's frank without being graphic, emotional without being
melodramatic and funny without being unbelievable.
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks