"For the third anniversary of Film Independent at LACMA's Live Read, we have a story about a boy and his pet." Critic and LACMA curator Elvis Mitchell typically introduces the semi-regular Live Read with a wry bon mot describing the film he and filmmaker Jason Reitman have selected, and this is how Mitchell prepared a packed house for the first film of the new season, Boogie Nights. (For more on how the unrecorded, one-night-only Live Read events work, see here.)
Boogie Nights, of course, has only grown in stature since it was first released 16 years ago. It is an uncommonly ambitious, devastating, absurd Scorsese-esque look at the rise and fall of a small enclave of pornographers living in the San Fernando Valley in the late '70s and early '80s. I've always thought of it as a hilarious tragedy. Last night may have inverted that idea.
Eighty percent of the Live Read is in the casting, with stunt-y choices, clever nods, or gender and cultural reversals. Last year, Reitman wangled six women for a reading of David Mamet's wounded machismo convention, Glengarry Glen Ross. When Reitman took this Live Read on the road last month at the Toronto Film Festival, he subverted the character of Dirk Diggler by casting the silver-tongued Jesse Eisenberg in the role Mark Wahlberg originated. Ha-ha, smart nerd as porn star. Not last night though. Reitman reverted to writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's original intention: Put a pretty slab of beef up there and make him talk dumb. Reitman's slab came in the form of Taylor Lautner, the Twilight heartthrob. Lautner, dressed in a black T-shirt and black denim, his smile-smirk upturned, seemed right at home as Dirk. Seated beside Lautner was a dim hunk of another era: Don Johnson was introduced last, filling Burt Reynolds part of Jack Horner, the paterfamilias and filmic guru of this porn tribe.
Boogie Nights has a massive ensemble, and last night forced Reitman to host what appeared to be his largest collection of actors yet — 10 total — with some asked to play two, three, sometimes four pivotal roles throughout the reading. Friday Night Lights’ Jurnee Smollett pitched in double duty as a pair of porn stars, "Chocolate Love" Becky Barnett, as originated by Nicole Ari Parker, as well as Jessie St. Vincent, the coquettish blond originated by Melora Walters. Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, Oscar-winning writing partners, were on hand to play Don Cheadle's Buck Swope and Philip Seymour Hoffman's consistently stupefied Scotty J., respectively. Judy Greer — hilarious, committed, wonderful, crinkly-faced Judy Greer — was Amber Waves, the mama to Horner's papa. Live Read stalwart Mae Whitman was Heather Graham's Rollergirl, relishing all her bubbly reserves. Kevin Pollak affected some kind of mellifluous coo as the pederast bankroller, the Colonel James. And Nick Kroll was easily the night's MVP, playing Reed Rothchild, Maurice TT Rodriguez, Floyd Gondolli, and Alfred Molina's mad-eyed Rahad Jackson — the four funniest and strangest characters in this menagerie of disturbed exhibitionists.
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I was there, and it was just as excellent as this author describes. In fact, I want this guy's job. Though his voice cracked a few times, Taylor Lautner was a surprisingly excellent choice for Dirk Diggler, and Don Johnson was a fantastic Jack Horner.