Boogie Nights is one of the fastest movies ever made. The breakneck pace of its story, as scripted by Paul Thomas Anderson, is more than enough to motivate such movement. But its propelled significantly by Robert Elswit’s gorgeous, free-roaming cinematography, a soundtrack of many of the era’s most bitchin’ tunes, and, of course, confident acting from an ensemble who went all in for their specific roles.
In short, the film just moves, ya dig? It’s as if Anderson attempted to cut a film with the same unrestrained, rapid sentiment of many of his cocaine-empowered characters. So, at two hours and 35 minutes long, Boogie Nights makes for one hell of a trip.
I mention the film’s pace for two reasons. One, I am still in awe of the fact that Anderson was able to sustain such heightened energy over the course of the film, and two, I remain perplexed that my favorite scene in the film contains none of the pleasurable energy I’ve mentioned so far. Instead, it’s a scene energized by anger. A scene that captures one adult’s aggression, and one kid’s inability to deal with it. The kind of scene that I fear and anticipate both equally.
Mom wants to know the things moms want to know. Where has her son been? What’s he been doing? Who has he been with? But instead of calmly asking questions, Mom uses this moment to berate her son. When the conversation moves from the cold living room to Eddie’s bedroom, we watch two very skilled actors go at it with disturbing authenticity. Everytime Wahlberg sheds a tear or stumbles over his words, Gleason is right there to attack him, calling him a “stupid loser,” while destroying his room. It’s one of the most realistic domestic battles I’ve ever seen captured on film.
Back to the fight, I’d like draw attention to something specific as a means of detailing how perfect the actors are. Here are a few context-free phrases said by Wahlberg during the scene: “What is your problem?” “Maybe I’ll run away where you can never find me!” “Please don’t be mean to me!” “I’m gonna be something, I am!”
Joanna Gleason is a revered character actress who has delivered notable work on stage, television and film (she currently plays Kevin Kline’s wife in Last Vegas). As Eddie’s mom, she delivers a two-minute performance of sheer horrific command. She owns every second she’s on screen, staying in our minds long after she’s slammed the door on her son. On his director’s commentary for the film, Anderson says he thinks he slighted the audience during this scene. “Maybe [the scene] was coming from a personal place and I was blinded, and wasn’t doing my best job as a storyteller. I look at it now and I wish it was 10 minutes longer.” I agree with the second part.