TIFF 2013: What We Learned from Jason Reitman’s Live Read of ‘Boogie Nights’

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For the second coming of Jason Reitman’s (Labor Day) now infamous Live Read program to the Toronto International Film Festival, the young auteur has yet again assembled an all-star cast to tackle one of his (and everyone else’s) all-time favorite films. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights premiered at TIFF in the now defunct Uptown Theatre in 1997, the ensuing commotion causing an unpredicted street shutdown.

Reitman himself – his father in supportive attendance – excitedly introduced the event, declaring these reads even more fun than making actual films and announcing he and the cast would be working from a version of the original shooting script that would include select deleted scenes and alternate lines. Then our actors were introduced.

Dane Cook appeared to be at least the second-biggest fan on stage, enthusiastically delivering a spot-on Luis Guzman impression as Maurice Rodriguez, ideally timing Reed Rothchild’s lines – a scant helping compared to the improvisation-heavy John C. Reilly performance we are familiar with – and more, including the “Young Stud” who sobs about the two times in two days a chick has ODed on him.

Seated immediately next to Cook was his Saturday Night Live impersonator, Jason Sudeikis, playing Buck Swope, Floyd Gondolli, Kurt Longjohn and Rahad Jackson, and appearing gleeful at his main character’s introduction as a “black man in a cowboy outfit”. Sudeikis brought his signature stylings to Swope’s more comedic moments and deftly transitioned to the more emotional heart of the character Don Cheadle so effectively evokes in the film. Particularly relished was an unabashedly addled delivery of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” in the style of Alfred Molina.

Dakota Fanning (Night Moves, The Last of Robin Hood) made all in attendance at the Ryerson theatre blush with Rollergirl dialogue such as “Don’t fucking cum in me” as she brought a mature seasoning to the role Heather Graham originated. The officially grown up star also covered Dirk’s pre-pornography girlfriend, Sheryl Lynn with a sprightly demeanor.

Despite doubt surrounding her casting, Olivia Wilde (Rush) shocked with perhaps the best read of the night as Amber Waves. She brought perfect maternal gravitas to many of Waves’ lines, and rivaled both Julianne Moore’s comically flat porno shoot delivery and her manic anxiousness while playing off Fanning’s similarly anxious Rollergirl.

Josh Brolin (Labor Day) fittingly embodied Jack Horner considering the actor’s gruff, indeed Burt Reynolds-esque demeanor, but seemed to approach the event more in the fashion of a table read. He appeared tickled, however, by some of the more lurid and goofy content.

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A note accompanied Eddie Adams’ introduction, matching the character’s own request from later in the film – that henceforth he would be referred to as Dirk Diggler. Though Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been rumored, perhaps due to Don Jon’s apparent Boogie Nights influence, Jesse Eisenberg (Night Moves) was on hand to portray Dirk. A tough fit not approached without an open mind, but one ultimately too tough to believe as Eisenberg’s neurotic ticks dominated a characteristically awkward read. A solid working rapport did develop with Brolin’s Jack and Cook’s Rothchild, however, and the rendition of “Feel My Heat” brought down the house. Role originator Mark Wahlberg was in town to open a new Wahlbergers location, but did not appear.

Other actors present were Marc-Andr Grodin as Little Bill and Scotty J., Jarod Einsohn as Todd and Johnny Doe, Jordan Hayes as Jessie, Becky and just about every remaining female character, and Scott Thompson as The Colonel and just about every remaining male character (plus one female he was elated to deliver). Among these, Grodin in particular was a standout in his work as the un-confident yet enamored Scotty (albeit sans the signature “I’m a fucking idiot” breakdown).

Among the deleted scenes and alternate dialogues were a few revelations, at least to this writer and proud Boogie Nights fanatic. Possibly the most impactful of these revelations is the custody hearing judge’s original opening line, “You must be Maggie,” directed at Amber. This confirms suspicion that an earlier phone call from “some kid looking for his mom” is indeed Amber’s son calling her (possibly with knowledge that his custodial father, Tom, had refused to put him on with her in an even earlier phone call). In the final version the mystery of the child’s call functions just fine with simultaneous comedy and tragedy, but this nugget satiates a strong curiosity.

Reitman also prefaced another major scene, hopelessly pleading to an (obviously) absent Paul Thomas Anderson that the (likely unfilmed) scene should be restored. It’s a bit of a doozy. The filmmaker’s voice changed from the levity of directions such as “They cry, they hug, they laugh, they do more coke” to achieve sudden gravitas when the scene finally came. Immediately following the escape from Rahad’s penthouse (or, rather, following a different deleted sequence of Rothchild “dodging guard dogs” as he flees through backyards), Dirk finds himself lost with an empty gas tank (a moment present in the film as we know it). He looks around, and realizes he is in Torrance, outside his parents’ house. When he knocks to ask for help, Sheryl Lynn opens the door, holding a baby. A man – her husband – lounges inside. Not only does Sheryl Lynn reveal a hundreds-large video collection of Dirk’s work (“I knew you’d do something special with it”), she imparts that Dirk’s parents passed several months prior. Cut to a sedan crossing an intersection and being suddenly t-boned by a drunk driver. Pull in on the vehicle, reveal Dirk’s mother and father bloodied and expired. Pan to second vehicle, where the also dead drunk driver is half-in, half-out of his windshield – Johnny Doe.

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Though interesting to learn of, it feels this sequence may have rendered its film considerably less significant through highly unbelievable coincidence. Anderson of course went on to make the magnificent Magnolia, which is built around similar coincidences, but here there seems little reason to revisit any of these characters or examine Dirk’s reactions. Furthermore, bolstering the vilification of Doe and killing him only serves to undermine Dirk and Jack’s subsequent reuniting.

Other deleted moments involved a mini-feud between Dirk and Todd over a pair of jeans Todd borrows without asking, an implication that Dirk’s hubris is holding his friends back as he refuses to sell his Corvette (which according to Scotty would solve “everything”), REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” being intended instead of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” (it and the same scene’s “Sister Christian” being the only two songs directly referenced), Swope referring to Dirk as “crackerjack” in character for a film shoot, a much earlier reveal of Dirk’s “one special thing” during his first film shoot, Scotty kissing Dirk on the back of the neck as opposed to the mouth, and a quick glance of beaten women being kept in Rahad’s bedroom. Oh, and apparently William H. Macy’s infamous “ass in her cock” mix-up as Little Bill – a beautiful slip illustrating how flabbergasted he is in the moment – was in the script that way to begin with.

That Boogie Nights is such a very special film made Jason Reitman’s Live Read for TIFF 2013 that much more special. Apart from the novelty of the event, it is intriguing to picture an alternate cast re-imagining iconic performances. Considering the subject matter, many of the deliveries were sufficiently giggle-worthy, but the raw emotion of the beloved film rang true between the lines as the assembled cast handled their duties with great decorum and appreciation.

- Tom Stoup

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The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.

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By Tom Stoup

Perpetually aspiring filmmaker Tom Stoup has been regularly featured as an editor, interviewer and contributing writer in Icon Magazine, Behold Florida and ReelTimePodcast.org. He has earned a degree in the science of film, currently co-hosts "Almost Arthouse" with Ty Landis and blogs at WeToldYouWhattoDream.blogspot.com.

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