Julianne Moore received her first of four Oscar nominations (two in the supporting category) for her performance as Amber Waves in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights. On the surface, Amber Waves does not seem like the type of character the Academy would recognize. But in a weird way Amber Waves is a bizarre mixture of two of the their favorite types of supporting actress roles-- she's both a sex worker (in this case a porn star) and an emotional mother. Boogie Nights is a film about the "Golden Age of Porn" in the 1970s and 80s, and a popular porn star named Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and the group of filmmakers and actors that surround him. Amber Waves is the "mother" of the group, always looking out for everyone around her while at the same time trying to regain the right to see her biological child. She is the emotional core of the film, and her relationship with director Jack Horner (an also Oscar-nominated Burt Reynolds) is a pivotal aspect of the film.
Julianne Moore really had her work cut out for her with Amber Waves. She has the task of making her character simultaneously sexual and believable as a porn star while at the same time building up these motherly relationships with everyone around her, even those she has sex scenes with. Not a scene goes by where Amber isn't giving out some parental advice or looking out for one of the characters. Julianne gives her an appropriately warm and approachable quality and is careful not to dip too deeply into being flat out creepy. Her relationships with Jack and Dirk are two of the most important in the film, and in many ways is the only thing keeping these two together. Her scenes with Wahlberg are especially fascinating, somehow being simultaneously sensual, maternal, and just a little bit oedipal. She refers to him as her 'baby boy' on numerous occasions, and is protective of him from him from the first moment Jack approaches him, but is also the first person he has an onscreen sex scene with. It's this weird dichotomy that the two handle well.
Amber's biggest storyline is her regrets about losing joint custody of her son, who she had with a past husband in a much more normal life. It quickly becomes apparent that Amber needs to be a mother as much as those around her need a mother. Her deep regrets about losing her son because of her 'inappropriate' life style and drug addictions manifested themselves in this burning desire to nurture and be loved. Moore clearly understands and relates with her character, and she is very careful not to make Amber a caricature or someone to mock. Clearly, this character could have been a lot more crazy, or unsettling, or contemptible but the balance that Julianne has makes her character so much more fascinating. There are only two scenes where she goes over the top, her most important being her custody meeting with her ex-husband. It quickly becomes apparent how uncomfortable she is without someone to mother around who would protect her, and her breakdown is heartbreaking and well done. It's a tough scene that might be, to some, a little overdone, but I connected with her emotionally and it worked.
Julianne Moore and I have a really interesting relationship. She's an actress who I genuinely like and admire for her choices (she was great in Crazy, Stupid, Love. this summer) but at the same time one who I have never quite fell in love with, as the rest of the world seems to have. She's one of the three actresses (the others being Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer) who I feel guilty for not absolutely adoring. However, there is no denying that her performance in Boogie Nights is a phenomenal achievement and Amber Waves is an incredibly memorable character. With the amount of characters in this film, Amber occasionally fades into the background for awhile and her storyline never quite gets a good conclusion but neither of those are Moore's fault. Julianne Moore does an outstanding job, and gets 4.5/5 Wiests.