Posted on 5/13/10 10:05 AM
"Boogie Nights" is one of those films which can be classified a multitude of ways. It can easily be viewed as period piece, a character study, or a social commentary, among other things. Anyway you look at it, it proves to be an effective piece of film-making. A key to this success is the performance of Mark Wahlberg. Watching him make the transformation for clean-cut kid Eddie Adams to porn superstar Dirk Diggler is what keeps the audience invested in the story being told. In the first half of the film, when it's the most crucial, Wahlberg is able to maintain such innocence and charisma and yet seems instantly at home in the new decadent world his character finds himself in. These scenes work greatly to the film's advantage because they are played with such earnestness. Seeing Eddie Adams embark on his new career, we might as well be watching Peggy Sawyer (of "42nd Street") being told she's headed to Broadway. The whole thing just feels so unexpectedly clean, which in turn may be something of a setup for the much darker moments to come.
Admittedly, the rise (in the late 70s) and fall (in the early 80s) of the pornography industry is an area of history we don't learn about in school. But it is a legitimate topic of interest, nonetheless. While it certainly contains humor and a plethora of colorful characters, "Boogie Nights" takes itself seriously. Aside from sex as a business, issues such as race relations, homophobia, and drug abuse, prove vital to the story it is telling. Another overriding theme of the film is the classic notion of fame as a double-edged sword. One heart wrenching plot line involves a porn actress, gently portrayed by the always wonderful Julianne Moore, who is engaged in a custody battle with her estranged husband over their children. The irony here is that throughout the film we have seen how naturally she mothers those around her, and yet she is ultimately deemed unfit to be a mother to her own children. I'm not saying that decision is wrong, but it isn't easy to watch as she's forced to accept it either.
If in fact porn can ever be inspiring, it is something of an inspiration to see the concern the filmmakers within this film put upon themselves for producing a product they can be proud of. They strive to create movies their audiences will appreciate for reasons beyond the sex. We witness their creative process behind James Bond's porno counterpart, Brock Landers, from brainstorming through production. We see the adult industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards ceremony. It is only when we remind ourselves that these people are pornographers does any of this seem the least bit perverse. I strongly feel that this film is in no way trying to glamorize porn. (The ultimate fates of some of its characters are proof enough of that.) I do, however, feel that sometimes we are too quick to demonize based on preconceived notions. The characters we meet here are all consenting adults, engaged in a lucrative business. True, they are flirting with a myriad of dangers. But this film does them a great justice. It allows us to understand the psychology at work behind the choices they make. And it does us a justice too. It lets us choose whether or not we condemn them for it.
Three stars, out of four.