Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Nicole Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Burt Reynolds), Best Original Screenplay (Paul Thomas Anderson)
SUMMARY: Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a 17-year-old high school dropout working as a busboy in a Reseda nightclub in 1977. One evening, he meets Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), who is a semi-famous porn film director. Jack offers Eddie an audition; when Edie accepts, Jack has him have sex with Rollergirl (Heather Graham) while Jack watches. Rollergirl is also in the porn business, and usually appears in Jack’s films: her name comes from the fact that she always wears roller skates. When his domineering mother kicks him out of the house, Eddie moves into Jack’s house and takes him up on the offer of appearing in the next movie. Eddie is advised to pick a screen name, and he settles on “Dirk Diggler”. In his first role, Dirk has to have sex with Jack’s live-in girlfriend/leading lady Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). The film is a success, and Dirk’s career is launched. His stardom increases as the next few movies come out, and Dirk makes enough money to buy his own house, clothes and Corvette. Each of Jack’s film consists of the same stock crew and actors, and Dirk becomes a part of this group. Aside from Jack, Amber, Dirk and Rollergirl, the group consists of actor/amateur magician Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly); Little Bill Thompson (William H. Macy), the assistant director; Scotty (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the (homosexual — he quickly falls in love with Dirk) boom operator; Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), an actor who wants to go into stereo sales; Becky Barnett (Nicole Parker), an actor; Jessie, another actor, and Colonel James, who finances all of the films. Dirk and Reed develop a friendship, and together pitch a James Bond-style film to Jack. Jack has always wanted to make movies that go beyond pornography, and he quickly endorses the idea. The resulting films, in which Dirk plays the lead and Reed plays the sidekick, become huge hits and turn all of the group members into wealthy people. However, everything is not as rosy as it appears: Amber is addicted to cocaine, and has a son she doesn’t get to see, while Little Bill’s wife constantly cheats on him.
At a party to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the end of the decade, Little Bill (again) finds his wife cheating. This time, he snaps. He retrieves a gun and shoots both his wife and her lover, then himself. At the same party, Amber introduces Dirk to cocaine, to which he becomes addicted. He, in turn, gets Reed addicted. Things begin to fall apart for the group, in part because of the rampant cocaine use and in part because of the changing times (VHS was becoming popular, meaning that it was more economical to produce quick, straight-to-tape films). Jack abhors the thought of transitioning to tape, as it will diminish the art aspect of his films. He point-blank turns down an offer from businessman Floyd Gondolli offering to partner him in the tape industry. Meanwhile, Dirk’s cocaine use turns him into a violent, unpredictable person who has trouble performing when called upon. This prompts a fight with Jack, which leads to Dirk quitting the group and the industry. He and Reed attempt to become rock stars, but are limited by their lack of money. Jack also runs into money trouble: Colonel James is arrested for being with an underage girl, and child pornography is found in his house. Jack is forced to work with Floyd, but the lack of story in the films beats him down. Amber also experiences hard times when she attempts to regain custody of her son, who lives with her ex-husband. Amber is still addicted to cocaine, and this, coupled with her role in the porn industry and past criminal record, result in a loss in court. Buck, who has been dating Jessie, attempts to get a loan in order to open his stereo store and leave the porn industry. However, this very participation in porn disqualifies him from getting a loan. That evening, Buck and a pregnant Jessie stop for doughnuts. A man holds up the store, and a gunfight erupts that kills everybody in the store but Buck (Jessie is in the car). When Buck sees the money still lying on the floor, he takes it. Dirk and Reed have run out of money for cocaine, and in desperation they agree to a scheme cooked up by friend Todd. The plan involves them passing off baking soda as cocaine, and selling it to dealer Rahad Jackson. Surprisingly, Rahad does not test the “drugs”, and Dirk and Reed believe they are getting away scot-free. Unfortunately, Todd then demands the money in Rahad’s safe, and a gunfight breaks out. Todd is killed, but Dirk and Reed make it out. The incident scares Dirk enough that he goes to Jack’s house and begs for help. In 1984, Buck and Jessie welcome their son. Buck has successfully used the money to open a store, with a commercial directed by Amber. Reed does magic at a strip club, while Rollergirl attempts to get her GED. Colonel James is still in prison, but Jack has found financing, and the entire group — including Dirk — gets ready for their next film.
MY TAKE: I did not realize that there were so many famous people in this movie. It kind of makes it seem more legitimate, instead of the slightly seamy film I expected (much like the movies the group makes). When I saw who the people were, I thought that it was a very similar cast to that of Magnolia, which I reviewed not long ago. Turns out there was a reason for this: Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed both films. I think this is a better movie, although that one was nominated for Best Picture. In my opinion, Magnolia was melodramatic and dragged. I was a little uncomfortable with the subject of this film, as well as the nudity and overt sex. I realize it’s a movie about porn, but I don’t need to see the porn to get the idea. It’s an interesting story, albeit one that’s been done before (meteoric rise to stardom, fall from grace, possible redemption), but I thought the ending was trite. Possibly, this is because of an interesting thing I learned via YouTube: there aren’t any character arcs. None of the characters dramatically change over the course of the movie: at the end, they’re the same people, doing the same things, that they are at the beginning. To me, this smacked of “happy-ever-after”, which I don’t think is possible for these people. Four of them are raging cocaine addicts (Amber gets Rollergirl hooked, too) — going into the 80s, which we know was awash in drugs, particularly cocaine — they all work in an illicit field, and Buck used stolen cash to start a store. How he ever pulled that off undetected is beyond me — when a man is refused a loan, then suddenly comes up with the money on the same day (which also happens to be the day a store is robbed and three people killed), I would think it would be a dead giveaway. Plus, it’s made fairly clear that there aren’t a whole lot of legitimate options open to these people, due to their involvement in porn. Once they get too old, or are surpassed by new stars, the future doesn’t look too bright for them. It was a really hard ending for me to accept, because nobody learned anything, and it didn’t seem to fit where the film was going. I think it would have been more realistic had the various people been shown trying to make a go of it in more acceptable fields.
RATING: Too blatant for me.