The Simple Pleasures: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights
"I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That's just me. That's just something that I enjoy." - Floyd Gondolli
In September of 1997, my young self was lucky enough to find myself with two tickets to the Los Angeles premiere of this movie called Boogie Nights. There was some buzz about it beforehand. An avid user of AOL, after reading some article about the movie months before it opened, I managed to snag the username Dirk Diggler. Imagine the IMs I got after the movie was released. At the time, I hadn’t seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie, Hard Eight, so I really didn’t know what to expect from Boogie Nights but I was curious and was excited about the premiere. Little did I know this movie would become one of my favorite films of all-time.
It’s hard to believe this movie is 20 years old. I rewatched it again last night and it’s as fresh now as it was back then. It’s timeless; timeless because of the issues involved, like family, love, excess, will always be things we struggle with. Finding a place in the world where you fit in and feel comfortable is a problem many of us had. I didn’t have a mother like Dirk did. I can’t even imagine calling my kiddo “stupid” but I know it happens. Dirk was looking for a new family and he found that with Jack and Maggie. They were the mother and father he was seeking and, even though they both had their own issues, their love and concern for Dirk was clear. The same could be said for all the players in Jack’s stable. They all wanted to give love and be loved for who they were.
Boogie Nights is a five-star movie for me. Last night, someone on Twitter said “There are no perfect movies…” that all art is subjective. And to some degree, I guess that's true, but really, there are some movies to me that are perfect. These are films that can’t really be improved upon. In my case, these are films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Innocents, and yes, Boogie Nights. In the ensuing conversation, last night about “perfect” movies, John Mattson (Milk Money) summed up my feeling exactly on Twitter when he said “Like there’s a line, and beyond that line, the movie (or whatever) is so great that its flaws are trivial. So it’s not a case of ‘I don’t see flaws’ but (to borrow from R. Mitchum) ‘Baby, I just don’t care.’”
Boogie Nights is a perfect film to me because it does everything right. The direction, the script, the edition, the production design (which I actually wrote about for TFS Summer Camp last July), the music, and the acting… It’s a complete and total package of San Fernando Valley porn family goodness that I continue to revisit again and again.
PTA’s writing and direction are both stunning. Most directors would kill to have their sophomore effort be this terrific. Dylan Tichenor’s work is like a masterclass in editing. Boogie Nights nails the look and feel of Los Angeles in the late 70s/early 80s. The soundtrack is a joy to listen to, from the opening song through to the credits, it’s one amazing song after another. Let’s not forget the score from Michael Penn and Jon Brion. Their work is just as crucial as the soundtrack.
In terms of acting, PTA manages to get the best performances from his cast. Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner has never been better. Ever. He’s always been likable throughout his career but his work in Boogie Nights was tremendous. It really makes me sad to see Mark Wahlberg dismiss his work in this movie and ask God for forgiveness. He was terrific as Dirk Diggler and has zero to be ashamed about for this role. Julianne Moore is stunning as Amber Waves. She’s always amazing but her work for PTA here and in Magnolia is something special. Special shout out to both Alfred Molina and Thomas Jane for their work in this film. Their scene together is one of the best scenes ever, period.
I could continue to wax poetic about Boogie Nights but I think I’m just going to encourage you to watch it again, or for those of you reading this who haven’t seen it yet, set aside the next 2 and 1/2 hours, fire up your Netflix and let the glory of the movie wash over you. Plenty of people have been marathoning the Star Wars films this past week in anticipation of The Last Jedi, in addition to that, why not marathon all of PTA’s movies in honor of his newest, Phantom Thread? Go on, you deserve to watch a perfect movie right about now.