Young Eddie Adams' 'special thing' happens to be a stunning appendage which propels him to stardom in the world of 'adult entertainment'. Deprived of love and respect from his family, Eddie is renamed 'Dirk Diggler' and conquers the world of porn, but manages to retain his essential innocence. As the turbulent seventies shade into the hedonistic eighties, Dirk's career goes into a tailspin; but he is rescued by the safety net of the extended family fostered by hard-core movie director Jack Horner.
Paul Thomas Anderson's screenplay is exemplary in its ability to interweave the stories of its large cast of characters. In accord with the wisdom of the Roman dramatist Terence (who claimed, 'Nothing human is alien to me'), Anderson has engaged with a side of life widely considered to be irredeemably sleazy, and has mined humour, sadness and compassion out of his unlikely subject matter.