There are a lot of ways the filmmakers could have gone about making Lovelace, a biopic about one of the most well-known porn stars in history who spent a grand total of 17 days in the industry. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ended up going for a pretty straight-up story about a young, naive woman who was abused and manipulated to star in what turned out to be the most famous porno of all-time. While the film was interesting because of its subject matter and strong performances from Amanda Seyfried (the titular character) and Peter Sarsgaard (abusive husband Chuck Traynor), it’s hard for me to decide whether it was really any better than an above-average TV movie.
The film begins in 1970, when a 21-year-old Linda goes ice skating with her more precocious friend and gets picked up by the charismatic Traynor. The two quickly fall into a relationship despite Linda’s strict parents and get married, and that’s when things start to take a turn for the worse. The core of the straightforward narrative is about how Linda comes to star in Deep Throat and temporarily rises to stardom due to the film’s unexpected success, but never really gets to enjoy the fruits of that success due to the film’s producers and her husband’s controlling and abusive nature.
In many ways, Lovelace feels like a fairly standard battered wife film, though to the directors’ and Seyfriend’s credit you do kind of understand why things turned out the way they did. How does someone star in a porno against their will and appear to be relatively happy about it when they are in fact miserable and depressed? To be honest I still don’t know, but Lovelace does a good job of helping viewers understand how she fell into her predicament through her naive disposition and orthodox upbringing in the that era.
I’m not sure how accurate the film is, but Lovelace is portrayed sympathetically as a tragic young woman who was led down the wrong path and had to learn her lessons the hard way before restoring some sort of normality to her life, though it is clear that the scars she endured from the Deep Throat experience will never fade completely. On the other hand, this type of handling of the narrative makes the story feel a little oversimplified. As harrowing as it was for Lovelace, was she really completely blameless for what happened to her and was her husband the root of all evil? The film certainly makes it feel that way.
Seyfried is excellent as Linda Lovelace, even though I thought she was a strange casting choice considering that she is far too pretty for the role even with the attempt to “ugly” her up. Sarsgaard has always been an underrated actor in my opinion, and it was good to see him relish the opportunity to play a sleazy bad guy, albeit a very one-dimensional one. I was also shocked to see Sharon Stone, who knows a thing or two about spreading her legs herself, play Seyfried’s mother. There’s no kind way to say this, but Ms Basic Instinct is really starting to show her age. But she still put up a solid performance that had more layers than her screen time afforded. Playing her husband and Seyfried’s dad is T-1000, Robert Patrick, who has run up a few miles on his odometer as well and doesn’t stand out much here. Rounding out the all-star cast are James Franco as Hugh Hefner, and Hank Azaria and Chris Noth as Deep Throat execs.
On the whole, I’d say Lovelace is a well-made, well-acted and tastefully-crafted film (considering the subject matter) that avoids feeling exploitative or sensationalised, but there isn’t anything about it in particular that elevates it above your average biopic. I just feel there was more emotional complexity to be explored but the conventional approach ended up hamstringing the production and prevented it from being something edgier and more memorable.
3 stars out of 5
PS: I have not seen Deep Throat but am interested in checking out the acclaimed 2005 documentary on the film called Inside Deep Throat.