Performance of the week: Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights (1997)


Julianne Moore received her first Oscar nomination for playing Amber Waves, a porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

Boogie Nights is a fantastic film that really surprised me. Although I quite like Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies in general, they can get a bit too weird for me sometimes, so I went into this one expecting it to be the same as the others. However, while Boogie Nights is indeed a strange film, it’s actually really easy to watch and impressive. Although it has a 2 h 35 minutes runtime, it never feels excessively long, and thanks to the solid editing and directing.  The story depicts the rise and fall of Eddie Adams/”Dirk Diggler”, a porn “actor”. To be honest, I feel like I have seen such a story many times in different movies, where a huge star meets his/her ultimate downfall or gets usurped by a new starlet, like All About Eve.  However, Paul Thomas Anderson created a wild, sleazy and unpredictable atmosphere for the film, which really keeps you glued to it. I mean, you never know what will happen next, like what “Little Bill” did, or the “doughnut robbery”, and this makes the film pretty exciting to watch because the tone can drastically change from hilarious to INCREDIBLY intense, like the drug dealer scene (which was superbly directed, with the firecrackers and all). The film has many characters, although I feel that some of them are a bit pointless, like Don Cheadle’s Buck. That being said, unlike Airport, all the characters are really interesting and have their own unique story-lines that contribute to the film’s running theme of pursuing one’s dream (which is certainly strange in a movie like this, but surprisingly effective). I also thought it was interesting the way Dirk was contrasted with the supporting characters, like how the pornography industry was his golden ticket, while for the others it stood in their way in achieving their dreams.  The film also explores some pretty standard themes like “Old vs New”, such as the introduction of videotapes or Dirk Diggler’s replacement. All in all, I find this movie surprisingly underrated in terms of Oscar (sighs) nominations, and I personally would have nominated it for best picture over As Good As It Gets LOL. Burt Reynolds was excellent and might even have deserved that win, although I can’t tell because I haven’t watched Robin Williams Good Will Hunting. Mark Walberg is not a favourite actor of mine, but I was genuinely impressed by his performance, and I’m beginning to think that he really has acting talent after watching The Fighter and this film. Also, I hate to admit this, but I appreciated his performance more than the great Jack Nicholson’s Oscar-winning turn in As Good As It Gets that year. (Outrage! Scandal!)

I wouldn’t say that Julianne Moore is underrated, because I think people do acknowledge that she’s a really great actress with four Oscar nominations under her belt. Underappreciated would be more like it. Why isn’t she talked about more often? After watching this movie, I’m beginning to agree with the majority that she’s probably one of the most Oscar overdue actress, but I’d still put her after the great Actress Glenn Close. Unlike many “overdue” performers, whom I personally feel give nomination-but-not-win-worthy performances aka Amy Adams, I myself  would have given Moore wins for 3 out of her 4 nominations (Not a fan of The End of The Affair, but still good anyway). Her scene-stealing performance as the severely depressed Laura Brown in The Hours is my personal favourite of hers, in which I think either her or Meryl Streep (for Adaptation) would have deserved to win over Catharine Zeta-Jones in Chicago.  And given how Kim Basinger is one of my least favourite winners  in this category (sorry, but stiff and stilted =/= mysterious and sexy to me), I would say yes she definitely deserved it for her performance here in Boogie Nights.

Ok firstly, I’ll admit that I don’t love her work here as Amber Waves like most people do but for a really trivial reason. My only problem  is how she’s pushed into the background a bit too often, but that doesn’t really matter because Moore effectively brought out the complex nature of this character really well, making her very memorable without being overshadowed by the film’s brilliance. Mention “porn star” and most people would think “slutty, dirty, whore-ish, etc. ” and pretty much whatever stereotypes that you can come up with. Yet what Moore did here was that she portrayed Amber Waves as a unlikely mother figure to the younger “actors”, despite being an “actress” herself. Right from the start, when she reminds Rollergirl to call someone (over some work issues, I assume),  we can see how well she cares for the younger actors and their welfare. Another memorable scene would be when she was “performing” with Dirk Diggler for the first time. It’s really amazing to see how she could be so motherly and kind in the way she told Dirk to not be nervous before the shoot, like a mentor tutoring a newcomer to the job, but then immediately afterwards, she has sex with him on camera, saying really dirty stuff and all. Her portrayal of bad porn acting was really funny too (“This is a giant cock” “John, you’re a wonderful actor!”).

The thing is, Amber Waves isn’t a perfect person; she’s really flawed, and it’s not because of her work, or not to me anyway. I actually find that the drug problem is still the more severe issue that really highlights her incapability as a mother. Moore’s performance is really tricky and complex, because she makes you sympathise with this character and feel that she’s full of motherly love (which she is), but she in fact has her own issues that cannot be overlooked. The scene where she missed her son’s phone call because she was doing lines pretty much summed everything up. Also, the custody scene alone, where she gets humiliated by her husband in front of the judge was heartbreaking due to Moore’s effective portrayal of her defencelessness and embarrassment. She really showed how much she loved her work and her reliance on it, but ultimately how it adversely affected her personal life as well.

Her big scene with Rollergirl (Heather Graham) where they both did lines together, probably best portrays how pathetic, messed up and sad Amber Waves really is. She could be high and talking gibberish but still literally acting like a mother to Rollergirl and encouraging her to improve herself etc.

The best way to describe this character would be sad. Yes, there are some pretty funny moments as mentioned above, but you really feel sorry for this character thanks to Moore’s effective performance. Her last scene where she stares at herself in the mirror sums up the amount of sadness inside this character. I feel that Moore could have gone on the attention-grabbing, Oscar-baiting route and make Amber Waves an extremely lost, delusional, semi-Norma Desmond character but instead she went for a very accurate, realistic and heartbreaking depiction of a woman who’s trapped by her own problems. Other than how the character is pushed into the background quite often, I really admired and respected her performance. 4.5/5.


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