Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lovelace: A Review



LOVELACE

In Case You Didn't Know, Porn Has a Dark Side...

Amanda Seyfried is determined to be taken seriously as an actress.  Bless her heart, but apparently the only way for her to show she is a 'serious actress' is to appear topless and simulate oral sex.  Lovelace is a film about the late Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat, the first pornographic film to enter the mainstream.  Deep Throat's influence I think still reverberates: I don't think the increase in graphic sex on screen (even in PG-13, let alone R-rated films) would have been accepted without Deep Throat making detailed visualization of intercourse almost casual.   I doubt Fifty Shades of Grey (book and film) would have gone out without Deep Throat making waves where audiences could laugh while watching people having sex on camera. 

Lovelace tells the same story twice, which is probably why the film has been so trashed.  We first meet Linda Boreman (Seyfried), a fun-loving teen in the 1970s Florida.  She's had a child out-of-wedlock whom her mother Dorothy (Sharon Stone) has made her give up for adoption.  As a result, she's reluctant to engage in sex again. The idea of oral sex is suggested, but she again isn't too thrilled with that.  While at the roller rink with her best friend Patsy (Juno Temple), they meet Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), local shady figure.  He does charm Linda and even her parents Dorothy and John (Robert Patrick).  Six months later, they are married.

Despite Chuck's fixation on porn and oral sex, things are going well for them.  It appears that Linda has enormous talent in that sexual endeavor, and this is what sells her to porn producers Anthony Romano (Chris Noth) and Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale).  Such a talent cannot go to waste, and despite her not being the typical porn star, she is signed by Chuck to make a pornographic film to be named in her honor...Deep Throat.

We get the making of it, including a friendship with her co-star Harry Reems (Adam Brody).  Deep Throat enters the mainstream, and becomes a cause celebre, making the now-Linda Lovelace (starring as herself) a major star (or at least celebrity).  Feted in the press for her 'daring role', even Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner (James Franco) hosts a lavish Hollywood screening of Deep Throat with Sammy Davis, Jr. in attendance.  Linda revels in all the fame, "a real star", she declares.


We then go to a polygraph six years later, where the real story comes out.  Far from an idyllic marriage, Chuck is wildly abusive, going so far as to force his wife into prostitution as he continues being a minor criminal.  She is in no way enthusiastic about Deep Throat, and despite the fame it brought her she never received more than $1,250 for it.  Even Hefner, instead of taking her to be a 'real actress', asks instead that she go down on him at the Deep Throat screening. 

She at one point begs Dorothy to take her in and help her divorce Chuck, but Dorothy thinks that once she marries she should stay in it.  John tells her he went to see Deep Throat but had to leave, saying he didn't recognize his little girl and breaking both their hearts.  He and Dorothy are also so ashamed of all the jokes even Johnny Carson makes of their daughter (The Mississippi Delta...what has a mouth bigger than Linda Lovelace).  Lovelace by this time has refused to make any more porn films, earning Chuck's wrath.

In desperation, Linda flees after being forced into a mass rape by Chuck in exchange for cash.  Going to Romano in her clearly assaulted condition, she tells him she does not want to do any other films, let alone a Deep Throat sequel.  Romano, quietly enraged by what Linda has been subjected to, puts her up secretly at a hotel, then tricks Chuck to come look for her, only to have his goons beat him up not just for what he did to Linda but for the money he owes Romano.

Lovelace ends with her, now married and with a son, going on The Donahue Show to talk about her memoir, Ordeal.  She tells the audience she was in porn for 17 days, but basically she is damned to be seen through the prism of Deep Throat, her one pornographic film, for all her days. However, she will devote the rest of her life to speaking out against pornography and violence against women.   Linda Lovelace died in 2002 from injuries in a car accident.  Her ex-husband Chuck Traynor, who went on to marry Marilyn Chambers (one of a handful of pornographic actors to achieve some note in the mainstream culture), died of a heart attack three months after Lovelace.


As I said, the structure of Lovelace (the screenplay Andy Bellin) and the decision by co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman to make it so creates an unnecessarily cluttered film.  I don't understand why they opted to show a rather wonderful version of Lovelace's story only to throw us the 'real' and more horrifying tale.  It could have easily worked if the trio took a more direct and linear take or had the Donahue interview serve as the jumping-off point for Lovelace.   Instead, the decision to go from 'it's all wonderful' to 'it's all horrible' makes one wonder whether we (who know little to nothing about Lovelace or Deep Throat) were being deliberately mislead and manipulated.  There's something to be said about attempting to be too clever.

Lovelace itself has a few saving graces.  First, it is pitch-perfect in its recreation of the 1970s: the clothes, the cheesy sets, even the cinematography appears to come from another era (and I mean that in a good way).  The recreations of Deep Throat (a film I haven't seen but given the recreations must be awful) also had an authenticity in terms of production (I cannot vouch for accuracy).  However, even the simulation of oral sex was a bit distasteful to me (no pun intended).

Second, it gives Amanda Seyfried (whom I discovered shares my birthday) one of her best roles, and she gives her best performance in Lovelace.  Not relying on attempting to be cute or whimsical, Seyfried handles the shift from eager ingénue to terrified victim.  Sarsgaard, one of our better younger actors, is equally good in going from the good Chuck to the brutal Chuck.

As a side note, Lovelace comes close to playing like another porn-related film about a naïve girl and her manipulative and ultimately destructive husband/manager: Star 80.  Lovelace even brings in Eric Roberts (the male lead in Star 80) in a cameo as the polygraph examiner.   It's an odd thing to say that Lovelace plays like Star 80 only with a more upbeat ending (at least no one was killed), but while I am not happy about comparing films there are similarities between the stories that lend themselves to comparison. 

In terms of other performances, Patrick and Stone were excellent as the Boremans.  I did not recognize Stone at all until late in the film, and she never goes over-the-top as the disapproving Dorothy.  Patrick made John a strong, silent type, until he and Linda share a conversation that I found terribly heartbreaking and well-acted between him and Seyfried.  Even Adam Brody, whose gone from The O.C. to the BJ, had a small but good part in the film (and I always think his Seth Cohen was basically him playing himself and everything since a variation of Seth Cohen).  The only weak point was Franco, wildly miscast as Hefner: he doesn't look or sound anything like the porno king. 

A big problem was Stephen Trask's score, which was a bit too much.

Lovelace could have been better.  We could have seen a better-structured film, and one that went into more detail about Lovelace's life post-Deep Throat (how did she meet her second husband?  was her reconciliation with her mother long-lasting?).  Still, it was the performances, particularly by Seyfried, Sarsgaard, Stone and Patrick that made Lovelace a good story to watch.  Yes, it could have been better, and perhaps a more definitive film version of the story of Linda Boreman (aka Linda Lovelace) will be made.  I don't think Lovelace is a bad movie, and after seeing the film, I don't think Linda Lovelace was a bad person. 

1949-2002

DECISION: B-

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