This is going to be one of those difficult reviews. Where do you even start with a movie like this? Well, I guess we can start with expectations. Paul Thomas Anderson has four major films. I've now seen three of them. I really liked There Will Be Blood, though it had its problems. I hated Magnolia, though I need to see it again. And from what I've heard, Punch-Drunk Love is a love it or hate it kind of movie, with a majority leading toward the latter. I also saw the 2.5-hour time span of this film and thought "great, another super-long drama." Fortunately, that's only partially true.
The film is about the ups and downs of the porn industry and everybody involved with it in the 70s and 80s. Leading the cast is Mark Wahlberg as Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler, a high school drop-out who wants to make something out of himself based on the fact he has a huge... talent. He teams up with director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and his wife(?), Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). He befriends another couple of porn stars named Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham). Also on tap are Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Thomas Jane, and Alfred Molina. (And holy crap, Tom Lenk was in this? Buffy fans know who I'm talkin' about. Twas his first role, apparently.)
So yeah, obviously, this has one epic cast. I'm not even going to bother talking about the acting, because it's all pretty stellar. And they were backed up with some fantastic writing, to boot. What I was most surprised about was how funny this movie was. IMDb labels it as a straight drama. I mean, I should have known from There Will Be Blood, but still. The first hour and a half (and/or the 70s segment) had me laughing out loud at times. There are definitely some fantastic quotes in this film.
But then came the drama. The last hour of the movie (and/or the 80s segment) is practically straight drama, which was an rough transition from the lighter fare of the first 90 minutes. I thought the following 25-30 minutes was difficult to get through. I thought it dragged, bringing the what had up until then been excellent pacing down to almost a halt. Fortunately, it does pick up again. Right before the 2-hour mark, in maybe the last 30 or so minutes of the movie, it grabbed my attention again. This is the part where everybody's lives have hit rock bottom. Don Cheadle can't catch a break; Wahlberg, Reilly, and Jane are failures; and Reynolds and Graham have sold out--and all of this comes to a head in a great moment.
Besides that little rough patch, I thought the film was fantastic. The camera work, the style, and the editing were superb. And I thought the music was decent for the most part, but when you have a mixture of Jessie's Girl and 99 Luft Balloons during a shootout, you have some geniuses at work. I said this was a tough review because reviews that rave are dull to write and boring to read. I suppose if I wanted to spark some conversation, I would say this: There's some serious reverse-Oedipus Complex stuff going on here. The mom at the beginning came off as jealous that her son/Wahlberg was getting off with another girl (and/or posters), and Julianne Moore constantly saw Wahlberg as her son... and then banged him continually. That's all I have to say, so I'll just leave it at that.