There are new friends, and endless parties by the pool. Deep emotional bonds get made; kids who were losers now have a circle of soulmates who recognize their true worth -- a replacement family, an ideal family. Boundaries are crossed (or, more accurately, a sense of what is appropriate was never established to begin with). Of course there's the sex and the drugs, unhappy moments that generate desperate forays into petty crime. And all of this is overseen by an impressario of limited vision who deep down just wants to be an artist.
Kinda sounds like the church youth group, doesn't it?
P.T. Anderson's break-out movie about the 70s-era porn industry is, in many ways, his roughest work, but it's the one I return to with the most frequency. He's working with a dream cast, who clearly relish what they're doing. Don Cheadle, Julianne Moore, John C. Riley, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Mark Wahlburg -- each of these people has to persuade the camera that it's their absurd sense of the innocent that leads them down the garden path. Even Burt Reynolds, (who, rumour has it, sacked his agent out of pique midway through the shoot) proves himself up to the task -- a one-time-only performance that earned him an Oscar nomination.* And Heather Graham's presence doesn't hurt things any, either.
The soundtrack is spot-on, Anderson's use of colour is spectacular -- starting with mundane earth-tones, then erupting in garish splendour, only to sink into deep shadows by film's end. Anderson's pacing owes a great deal to Scorsese, but it never feels like he's aping the master. In fact there's a world of influence to be discovered, and this DVD possesses one of the few director's commentaries worth the viewer's time.
And as grim as the story-arc gets, Anderson's sense of the comic stays with him, suggesting that this is what best carries a person through life. It's certainly what makes the film re-watchable.
*Thanks to Anonymous for the gentle correction.
Film Fave #10