Amanda Seyfried as Linda.
June 11, 2013
(Republished January 29, 2014)
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are fine documentarians. They struggle, however, to breathe life into their narrative features. Howl, a portrait of Allen Ginsberg and the publishing of his incendiary book of poetry, was basically turned into a drab courtroom drama, and not even some animated illustrations of Ginsberg's work could revitalise it. Their latest, Lovelace, details the rise and fall of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) during America's sexual revolution in the turbulent 1970s. It'll inspire more shrugs than any movie concerning even a couple of those keywords ever should.
In an attempt to make a not-boring biopic, the filmmakers - along with screenwriter Andy Bellin - structure it strangely, doubling back at the halfway mark and recounting the events we've just seen from a slightly different perspective. Call it Rashoporn if you like; it still feels like a superficial examination of an interesting time and subject. The only especially compelling element of it is Peter Sarsgaard's facial hair. He clearly took some grooming advice from co-star Wes Bentley, fresh from the set of The Hunger Games.
Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried.
Sarsgaard plays Linda's creepy, abusive husband, Chuck Traynor, because what, they were going to cast him as a sweetie pie? Have you ever seen a Peter Sarsgaard movie before? Chuck takes the 21-year-old Linda away from her parents (Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick) and gets her a gig in an ambitious porno as a means of paying off his numerous debts. The director (Hank Azaria) is doubtful of the normal-looking Lovelace's abilities as a porn star, but her unique, erm, talents score her the title role in his production of Deep Throat.
The picture is an unexpected crossover hit, gobbling millions of dollars and penetrating the culture like no pornographic film before it. The orgasmic highs felt by Lovelace as a result of its success does not mark the beginning of better days; rather, the climax. Unable to score a role in a serious movie, and bullied into even more depraved sex acts by Chuck, she eventually abandons the craft and becomes an advocate for the feminist movement (though this last aspect of her life is mostly unexplored here).
Epstein and Friedman get a lot of mileage out of the inherent hilarity (!) of badly acted pornos, painting everyone affiliated with Deep Throat - save Traynor - in a fairly positive light. It's a little troubling to see events depicted this way, considering Lovelace later testified in front of the Meese Commission that she was essentially "raped" during the production (also unseen in this feature). That kinda kills the laughter. The directors also coast on numerous cameos in lieu of further exploring our protagonist's psyche, or the efforts she took in the 1980s to campaign against pornography, or even an examination of why a 61-minute movie about a woman with a clitoris in the back of her throat enjoyed such a cultural moment in 1972. Who needs that when you can have James Franco briefly appear as Hugh Hefner?
Seyfried does fine with what little she's given, and Sarsgaard delivers as a supercreep. It's not Sarsgaard's fault he's been asked to do what he does best; it merely would have been more interesting when the film eventually reveals what was really going on behind the scenes if we hadn't already assumed Traynor was a weirdo jerk behind closed doors. Chris Noth, Adam Brody, Juno Temple, and Bobby Cannavale are all great in their small supporting roles. And this is, ultimately, a step up from Howl. Nonetheless, the strings still swell during emotional moments and our troubled hero still stares plaintively into the middle distance. It may as well be a biopic about the star of Driving Miss Daisy, so inessential Lovelace is.
Lovelace is now available on Quickflix.