Movie Review: Lovelace (2013)
The first half of “Lovelace” documents how a sexually inexperienced girl, Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried), living with her strict parents in 1970 in Davie, Fla., becomes involved in the hard-core porn industry.
The second half gives us the same story but from a degrading perspective.
Sorry. Bad joke. Yet true.
There are certainly intimations of abuse in the first half. That bruise on her thigh. That rhythmic noise in the motel room that doesn’t sound like knocking boots. The too-tight pants and muttonchop moustache of her Svengali-like husband, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).
But overall, Linda, soon to be Linda Lovelace, the most famous porn star in the world, a topic on “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” and the butt of snickering jokes from everyone from Johnny Carson to Bob Hope, seems to be a willing participant in the process. Chuck may come off as creepy and unctuous and vaguely threatening, but many of the other principles, from director Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) to producer Butch Peraino (Bobby Cannavale), come off as loveable rogues. Here’s Butch arguing against casting the dark-haired Linda in “Deep Throat”: “People want blonde hair, huge tits, and a nice round ass. It’s the harsh reality of our chosen profession.” Here’s the exchange after actor Harry Reems (Adam Brody) finishes too quickly as a result of Linda’s talents:
Linda: I’m sorry, did I do something wrong?
All men (lust-struck and reassuring): No, no, no ...
At this point, it’s actually comic.
Then in the second half: beatings, guns and gang rape.
Either/or, leaning toward or
This isn’t a bad structure—here’s the story and then here’s the real story—but it leaves our lovable rogues out of the picture, more or less. The beatings are from Chuck. The gun belongs to Chuck. The gang rape is organized by Chuck. These events are seen from Linda’s perspective. But the other guys? Are they what they seem in the first half? What does she really think of Wes Bentley’s short, sweet turn as a photographer who brings out her beauty? Was that real? At the least, the scene made me miss Bentley, whom I’ve barely seen since “American Beauty” in 1999.
I’m also curious if the filmmakers—writer Andy Bellin (“Trust”), and directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “The Celluloid Closet,” “Howl”)—chose this structure for more than aesthetic reasons. The “Deep Throat” story, after all, is still a he said/she said affair, and nobody wants a lawsuit. Was Linda Boreman brutalized into fame? Or, once famous (or infamous), did she deny responsibility for her choices by claiming coercion? One imagines it’s some combination of the two, but here, sadly, it’s either/or. Leaning toward or. Fingers are pointed squarely: at Chuck, of course, but also at Linda’s mother (a nearly unrecognizable Sharon Stone), who is puritanical about sex and then unsympathetic about Linda’s plight. It’s not until the 11th hour that she realizes how awful she’s been; what she’s done to her baby.
By giving us the same story twice, too, we also don’t have time for less-well-known aspects of Lovelace’s career, such as the 1975 movie “Linda Lovelace for President,” with Mickey Dolenz. What the hell was that about?
More importantly, why did “Deep Throat” break through? In “Lovelace,” its success is assumed but back in the day Vincent Canby of The New York Times was as baffled as anyone. Here he is in a January 21, 1973 article, “What Are We to Think of ‘Deep Throat’?”:
When I went to see it last summer, mostly because of the Goldstein review, I was so convinced of its junkiness that I didn’t bother writing about it. Still uncertain, I went back to see it again last Sunday. ... Although the audience last Sunday was a good deal more cheerful and less furtive than the one with which I first saw it, the film itself remains junk, at best only a souvenir of a time and place. I’m sure that if “Deep Throat” hadn’t caught the public’s fancy at this point in history, some other porno film, no better and maybe no worse, would have.
A helluva cast
Yes, Seyfried is good in the title role, and, yes, Sarsgaard can probably do the greasily unctuous thing in his sleep. Overall, it’s quite the cast. Besides those mentioned above, add James Franco (as Hugh Hefner), Robert Patrick (as Linda’s father), Chris Noth (as a producer), Chloe Sevigny (as a reporter with one line), Debi Mazar and Eric Roberts.
But what complexity the movie could have—about where we’re going and where we’ve been—isn’t there. The movie becomes an oft-told tale. It’s about a good girl who winds up with a bad guy, then finds her way home again.