Great Character Moments: Amber Waves from Boogie Nights (1997)

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 12.25.58 PMCharacter: Amber Waves

ActorJulianne Moore

Film: Boogie Nights

Role: A celebrated veteran of pornographic films affectionately considered the matriarch of a tight-knit group of actors and film makers, she is in turmoil over losing custody of her only child.


Amber Waves is a former housewife who now lives with pornographic film producer, director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) starring in many of the films. Her gentle and welcoming personality are just what the young new actors are drawn too, as many come form broken homes or troubled backgrounds. She hides her own secrets as well, which she masks behind a destructive cocaine addiction, but affords herself to anyone crying on her shoulder. A deeply sympathetic woman who is struggling to live with her choice, she is especially good to Horner’s latest finds, Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) and Roller Girl (Heather Graham).

The Moment: Roller Girl, a young pretty blonde, is perpetually on roller skates, as her name implies. Her real name is Brandi and she’s a free spirit that takes to pornography with great enthusiasm. She doesn’t openly regret her choice to be in 70s erotica, but there is a lingering sadness about her that Amber recognizes. In this moment, she is sharing lines of cocaine with Amber, the two bonding ever closer. It’s here where Roller Girl reveals a dark fear and a tragic despair that comes as a surprise. She asks Amber to be her mother, weeping so that when Roller Girl asks her if she is, Amber must say she is. Amber complies and the deeply emotional moment is punctuated by Amber’s tearful embrace as we clearly see how Roller Girl will be the substitute daughter for the real one she’s not allowed to see. It’s devastating.

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

Why It Matters: Julianne Moore is no stranger to drama and fearless portrayals of powerful female characters, and as such, makes Amber one of the more memorable people in a film richly populated by a cast of truly talented actors. To this point in the movie, as Amber has been presented as the caring over-seer of the young talent in front of the porn cameras, she has been mostly the steady one, the secure “rock” for others to grab onto. The haunts of her past continue to decay her saddening heart, but she is true to her nickname “mother” throughout. Here, as the vulnerable and naive Roller Girl begs for affection and a stable place in crazy world, she is herself overcome but accepting. That she then bolts from the bed and paces furiously with audible contradictions to her role, her wants, her direction and her plans, speaks much about what Amber is going through. It humanizes her and makes us, the viewer, ache for her recovery. It’s a tremendous character moment.


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