Boogie Nights is a 1997 American drama film written, produced and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It is set in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley and focuses on a young nightclub dishwasher, who becomes a popular star of pornographic films, chronicling his rise in the Golden Age of Porn of the 1970s through to his fall throughout the excesses of the 1980s. The film is an expansion of Anderson's mockumentary short film The Dirk Diggler Story (1988).
It stars Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy and Heather Graham. Robert Elswit served as cinematographer, Michael Penn composed the score and Dylan Tichenor edited the film.
The film was released on October 10, 1997 and garnered critical acclaim. Many critics compared the film's style to the work of Robert Altman. It was additionally nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay for Anderson, Best Supporting Actress for Moore and Best Supporting Actor for Reynolds. The film's soundtrack additionally received acclaim.
In 1977, Eddie Adams is a high school dropout living with his stepfather and emotionally abusive alcoholic mother in Torrance, California. He works at the Reseda nightclub owned by Maurice Rodriguez, where he meets porn filmmaker Jack Horner, who auditions him by watching him have sex with Rollergirl, a porn starlet who always wears skates. After a heated and physically violent argument with his mother about his girlfriend and sex life, Adams moves in with Horner at his San Fernando Valley home. Adams gives himself the screen name "Dirk Diggler", and becomes a star because of his good looks, youthful charisma and unusually large penis. His success allows him to buy a new house, an extensive wardrobe and a "competition orange" 1977 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. He and his friend, porn star Reed Rothchild, pitch and star in a series of successful action-themed porn films. Dirk works and socialises with others from the porn industry, and they live carefree lifestyles in the late 1970s disco era. That changes at a New Year's Eve party at Horner's house marking the year 1980, when assistant director Little Bill Thompson discovers his porn star wife having sex with another man, shoots them with a gun and kills himself.
Dirk and Reed begin using cocaine. Due to Dirk's drug use, he finds it increasingly difficult to achieve an erection, falls into violent mood swings and becomes upset with Johnny Doe, a new leading man Jack recruited. In 1983, after having an argument with Jack, Dirk is fired, and he and Reed leave to start a rock and roll career along with Scotty, a boom operator who loves Dirk. Jack previously rejected business overtures from Floyd Gondolli, a "theater" magnate in San Diego and San Francisco, who insists on cutting costs by shooting on videotape, because Jack believes that videotape will diminish the quality of his films. After his friend and financier Colonel James is imprisoned for child pornography, Jack works with Floyd, fitting disillusioned with the lack of scripts and character development in the projects Gondolli expects him to churn out. One of these projects involves Jack and Rollergirl riding in a limousine, searching for random men for her to have sex with while a crew tapes it. When one man recognises Rollergirl as a former high school classmate, he insults her and Jack, who both assault the man and leave him injured on the pavement as the crew drive away.
Leading lady Amber Waves, who took Dirk under her wing when he joined Jack's stable of actors, finds herself in a custody battle with her ex-husband. The court determines she's an unfit mother due to her involvement in the porn industry, prior criminal record and cocaine addiction. Buck Swope marries fellow porn star Jessie St. Vincent, who becomes pregnant. Because of his past, Buck is disqualified from a bank loan and can't open his own stereo equipment store. That night he finds himself in the middle of a holdup in which the clerk, the robber and an armed customer are killed. Buck escapes with the money that the robber demanded. Having squandered their money on drugs, Dirk and Reed can't pay a recording studio for demo tapes they believe will enable them to become music stars. Desperate for money, Dirk resorts to prostitution, but is assaulted and robbed by three men. Dirk, Reed and their friend Todd attempt to scam drug dealer Rahad Jackson by selling him a half-kilo of baking soda as cocaine. Dirk and Reed decide to leave before Rahad's bodyguard inspects it, but Todd fails to steal money from Rahad who kills him in the ensuing gunfight. Dirk reconciles with Jack.
In 1984, Buck and Jessie gives birth to their son, Amber shoots the television commercial for Buck's store opening, Reed practises a successful magic act at the strip club, Colonel James remains in prison and Rollergirl returns to high school. Dirk and Amber prepare to start filming again.
Boogie Nights is based on a mockumentary short film that Anderson made, while he was still in high school called The Dirk Diggler Story. He originally wanted the role of Eddie to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio, after seeing him in The Basketball Diaries. DiCaprio enjoyed the screenplay, but had to turn it down because he signed on to star in Titanic. DiCaprio recommended Mark Wahlberg for the role. Joaquin Phoenix was additionally offered the role of Eddie, but turned it down due to concerns about playing a porn star. Phoenix would later collaborate with Anderson in the films, The Master and Inherent Vice. Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Warren Beatty, Albert Brooks and Sydney Pollack declined or were passed up on the role of Jack Horner, which went to Burt Reynolds. After starring in Hard Eight, Samuel L. Jackson declined the role of Buck Swope, which went to Don Cheadle. Anderson initially didn't consider Heather Graham for the role of Rollergirl, because he had never seen her do nudity in a film. Notwithstanding Graham's agent called Anderson asking if she could read for the part, which she won. Drew Barrymore and Tatum O'Neal were additionally up for the role.
After having a quite difficult time getting his previous film, Hard Eight released, Anderson laid down a hard law when getting Boogie Nights made. He initially wanted the film to be over three hours long and be rated NC-17. The film's producers, particularly Michael De Luca, said that the film had to be either under three hours or rated R. Anderson fought with them, saying that the film wouldn't have a mainstream appeal no matter what. They didn't change their minds, and Anderson chose the R rating as a challenge. Despite this, the film was still twenty minutes shorter than promised.
Real life pornographic actresses Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart made cameos in the film. Hartley plays Little Bill's promiscuous wife and Hart plays the judge for Amber Waves' child custody case. Amber's custodial problems in the film were inspired by Hart's real-life custodial problems over her son.
Reynolds didn't get along with Anderson while filming. After seeing a rough cut of the film, Reynolds fired his agent for recommending it. Despite this, Reynolds won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. Later, Anderson considered Reynolds to star in his next film, Magnolia, but Reynolds turned it down.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was shown at the New York Film Festival, before opening on two screens in the U.S. on October 10, 1997. It grossed $50,168 on its opening weekend. Three weeks later, it expanded to 907 theatres and grossed $4,681,934, ranking #4 for the week. It eventually earned $26,400,640 in the U.S. and $16,700,954 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office total of $43,101,594.
The film currently has 92 percent positive reviews on film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, with 60 of 65 counted reviews giving it a "fresh" rating and an average rating of 8.1 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "Grounded in strong characters, bold themes, and subtle storytelling, Boogie Nights is a groundbreaking film both for director P.T. Anderson and star Mark Wahlberg." On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 85 out of 100, based on 28 reviews.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times said, "Everything about Boogie Nights is interestingly unexpected," although "the film's extravagant 2-hour 32-minute length amounts to a slight tactical mistake ... [it] has no trouble holding interest ... but the length promises larger ideas than the film finally delivers." She praised Burt Reynolds for "his best and most suavely funny performance in a large number of years" and added, "The movie's special gift happens to be Mark Wahlberg, who gives a terrifically appealing performance."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "Few films have been more matter-of-fact, even disenchanted, about sexuality. Adult films are a business here, not a dalliance or a pastime, and one of the charms of Boogie Nights is the way it shows the everyday backstage humdrum life of porno filmmaking ... The sweep and variety of the characters have brought the movie comparisons to Robert Altman's Nashville and The Player. There is additionally a few of the same appeal as Pulp Fiction in scenes that balance precariously between comedy and violence ... Through all the characters and all the action, Anderson's screenplay centres on the human qualities of the players ... Boogie Nights has the quality of a large number of great films, in that it always seems alive."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle stated, "Boogie Nights is the first great film about the 1970s to come out after the '70s ... It gets all the details right, nailing down the styles and the music. More impressive, it captures the decade's distinct, decadent glamour ... [It] additionally succeeds at something quite difficult: re-creating the ethos and mentality of an era ... Paul Thomas Anderson ... has pulled off a wonderful, sprawling, sophisticated film ... With Boogie Nights, we know we're not just watching episodes from disparate lives but a panorama of recent social history, rendered in bold, exuberant colors."
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called it "a startling film, but not for the obvious reasons. Yes, its decision to focus on the pornography business in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s and 1980s is nerviness itself, but more impressive is the film's sureness of touch, its ability to be empathetic, nonjudgmental and gently satirical, to understand what's going on beneath the surface of this raunchy Nashville-esque universe and to deftly relate it to our own ... Perhaps the most exciting thing about Boogie Nights is the ease with which writer-director Anderson ... spins out this complex web. A true storyteller, able to easily mix and match moods in a playful and audacious manner, he's a filmmaker definitely worth watching, both now and in the future."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, "[T]his chunk of movie dynamite is detonated by Mark Wahlberg ... who grabs a breakout role and runs with it ... Even when Boogie Nights flies off course as it tracks its bizarrely idealistic characters into the '80s ... you can sense the passionate commitment at the core of this hilarious and harrowing spectacle. For this, credit Paul Thomas Anderson ... who ... scores a personal triumph by finding glints of rude life in the ashes that remained after Watergate. For all the unbridled sex, what's significant, timely and, finally, hopeful about Boogie Nights is the way Anderson proves that a movie can be mercilessly honest and mercifully humane at the same time."
Two Boogie Nights soundtracks were released, the first at the time of the film's initial release and the second the following year.
Awards and nominations
The film received box success with Reynolds' depiction of Jack Horner garnered him twelve awards and three nominations, and Moore's depiction of Amber Waves garnered her six awards and nominations.