Film Review: “Lovelace” — A Provocatively Written, Well-Acted Biopic
Amanda Seyfried gives a sensitive performance as Linda Lovelace; Peter Sarsgaard is chilling as Chuck Traynor, the abusive husband who saw her as sex-object and potential money-making machine.
Lovelace. Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. In cinemas throughout New England.
By Betsy Sherman
In a curious turnaround, Linda Lovelace, the actress whose name became synonymous with X-rated sex practices after 1972’s Deep Throat, claimed by the end of the ‘70s that she had not consensually acted in that movie. Rather, she had been violently coerced to go in front of the camera. People who were maybe half-paying attention likely shrugged and asked, “Did she become a Jesus freak or something?” and went on their merry way.
The people in Linda’s life, however, weren’t even half-listening at the time it really mattered. The notorious performer’s story is told in the provocatively written, well-acted biopic Lovelace (it’s R-rated, with implied sex acts taking place off screen). Amanda Seyfried gives a sensitive performance as Linda (who was born Linda Boreman in 1949 and died after a car accident in 2002); Peter Sarsgaard is chilling as Chuck Traynor, the abusive husband who saw her as sex-object and potential money-making machine; and an unrecognizable (seriously) Sharon Stone is powerful as Mrs. Boreman, whose unforgiving standards of morality may have helped her deal with her own failings but blinded her to her daughter’s desperate predicament.
Anyone needing a primer on the cultural importance of Deep Throat, the first theatrical porno to attract an extensive mainstream audience, should watch the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. The makers of Lovelace, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and screenwriter Andy Bellin, dig for the personal story beneath the cinematic one. Epstein and Friedman are documentarists who transitioned into features with Howl, an inventive drama about Allen Ginsburg starring James Franco (whom they cast in Lovelace as Hugh Hefner).
Although Lovelace shares campy, ‘70s-nostalgia trappings with parts of Boogie Nights (obligatory roller disco), the touchstone reference is Bob Fosse’s Star 80, the true story of the murder of model-actress Dorothy Stratten by her controlling, unhinged husband (Eric Roberts, who played that role, has a cameo here). There’s also something of the consciousness-raising impact of Martha Coolidge’s semi-documentary about date rape, Not a Pretty Picture.
Bellin’s script is structured so that the rise to fame of the Florida girl-next-door makes up a bit more than half of the film. The initial romance in Linda’s marriage to Chuck soon diminishes, what with his hot temper, jealousy, and wish that she’d star in a porno movie. But Linda finds a glimmer of empowerment during the Miami shoot of Deep Throat. The encouragement she receives from Hefner and others after its success gives her hope of crossing over into mainstream show business.
Then a sort of rewind takes place, and the second part of Lovelace centers on the victimization that made the Deep Throat phenomenon (the movie and the extreme fellatio) possible. Scenes are revisited, with darker content revealed. For example, the supposed sound of vigorous sex between Linda and Chuck is shown to be a terrified, gasping Linda being thrown against the wall. The bruised Linda returns to the family home for help (she tells her mother about the beatings, but not that Chuck has forced her into prostitution). “You took a vow,” says Mrs. Boreman. “Obey him.”
Seyfried, as do the stars of all biopics, plays a version of Linda, rather than the Linda. As she showed in the HBO series Big Love (more so than mainstream successes like Les Misérables), she’s a talented actress. In her approach to the sweet, naïve (despite having had a baby out of wedlock) Linda on the page, who puts her trust in the wrong man, Seyfried brings a vulnerability that suits the girl whose will had been figuratively pistol-whipped by her mother well before she met her violent lover. But the movie leaves out steps in between the honeymoon and the porno “debut” (in reality, Linda had been in several cheapie stag films before Deep Throat). This robs the story, and the character, of some complexity.
The versatile Sarsgaard, bless him, is able to burrow into, and come out on the other side of, a character so vile he can take his wife to a hotel room where she’ll be gang-raped by five sleazebags, just because he’s short of cash. Stone doesn’t ask for sympathy for Linda’s pinched, exacting mother but does give us some understanding of her. The supporting cast, including Robert Patrick as the ineffectual Mr. Boreman and Hank Azaria as the horribly toupeed Deep Throat director Gerry Damiano, is mostly fine, but I have one quibble. Adam Brody as the R-rated Harry Reems completely lacks the Borscht Belt sensibility that made the “story” part of Deep Throat tolerable.