Film Review: Lovelace (dir by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)


About halfway through the new biopic Lovelace, there’s a scene where former porno actress Linda Lovelace (played by Amanda Seyfried) is hooked up to a lie detector.  The polygraph examiner explains that he’s going to ask Linda a few test questions to get a reading.

“Is your name Linda Lovelace?” he asks.

Visibly nervous, Linda replies, “Can you ask something simpler?”

It’s a great scene because it establishes the central mystery of both the film and the title character.

Just who exactly was Linda Lovelace?

A girl whose main talent was apparently giving head, Lovelace became a star in the 70s when she starred in Deep Throat, the first (and perhaps only) hardcore film to become a legitimate mainstream hit.  For a brief while, Lovelace was the face of the American sex industry.  However, her attempts to have a mainstream film career failed and Lovelace retreated into obscurity.

Several years later, she wrote a book called Ordeal.  In Ordeal, Lovelace claimed that she was forced, by her abusive husband, to perform in Deep Throat.  Whereas Lovelace, during her brief stardom, originally claimed to simply be a sexual adventurer who performed on camera because it was liberating, the post-stardom Lovelace presented herself as being a brainwashed victim.  Or, as Lovelace herself put it, “When you watch Deep Throat, you’re watching me getting raped.”  While several people disputed the authenticity of Ordeal, Lovelace herself passed a polygraph examination.  Lovelace then became an anti-pornography activist before, once again, descending into obscurity and eventually dying in an automotive accident in 2002.

Lovelace deals with the issue of figuring out just who Linda Lovelace was by basically telling her story twice.

During the first 45 minutes of the film, we see how young Linda Boreman first meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).  Everything about Chuck — from his mustache to his perm to his flashy clothes — practically screams sleaze but, since he’s played by Peter Sarsgaard, he also has an undeniable charm.  (With this film and An Education, Sarsgaard has proven himself to be the definitive older man who your parents warned you about.)  Chuck and Linda eventually marry and, when they need money, Linda turns to “acting” in order to pay the bills.

Under the watchful eye of producers Bobby Cannavale and Chris Noth, director Hank Azaria, and co-star Adam Brody, Linda stars in Deep Throat and becomes the face of the sexual revolution.  While there are occasional hints that things might not be perfect (bruises are often visible on Linda’s arms and legs), Linda seems to truly love the spotlight.  Even Hugh Hefner (played by James Franco, who is way too hot to only have a cameo) says she’s going to be a huge star.

And then, rather abruptly, we jump forward six years.  Linda is now writing Ordeal and we once again see how she first married Chuck Traynor, starred in Deep Throat, and came to be a star..  However, we now see the story through her eyes.  We see that Chuck wasn’t just controlling but that he was also an abusive psychopath who would hold a gun to her head in order to get a performance out of her.  We see that, during the shooting of Deep Throat, she was regularly beaten by her husband.  We see Linda attempting to reconnect with her strict and tradition parents (played by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick).  We see the ugliness that was hidden underneath the glamour.

Considering the subject matter and the talent involved, Lovelace should have been one of the most interesting films of 2013 but, unfortunately, the two separate halves of the film just don’t come together.  While the first half of the film does a good job of capturing the absurdity of sudden fame, the second half of the film falls apart.

Oddly enough, Chuck Traynor and Linda Lovelace only come across as real human beings during the superficial first half of the film.  During the second half of the film, both Chuck and Linda come across as one-dimensional ciphers.  Linda becomes such a total victim and Chuck becomes such a melodramatic villain that neither one of them is all that compelling as a character.  Instead of being disturbing and revealing, the second half of the film just feels like another generic film about the price of fame.

Most of what I know about Linda Lovelace and Chuck Traynor comes from two sources — the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat and Legs McNiel’s and Jennifer Osborne’s book The Other Hollywood.  In both the book and the documentary, Lovelace comes across as being a rather pathetic figure who was exploited by both the adult film industry and the anti-pornography activists who used her as a symbol.  Both the industry and the activists abandoned Linda once her novelty was gone.  Ironically, even though both the documentary and the book are rather critical of her, it is there that she comes across as a far more interesting, sympathetic, and ultimately tragic figure than she does in this biopic.

With all that in mind, Lovelace is not necessarily a failure as a film.  The 70s are convincingly recreated and there’s a few scenes that hint at the type of film that this could have been if the filmmakers had been willing to take a few more risks.

The film is also full of excellent performances.  Seyfried is sympathetic and believable as Linda and, up until the second half of the film requires him to abandon all shades of ambiguity, Sarsgaard perfectly captures the sleazy charm that someone like Chuck Traynor would need to survive.  As Linda’s strict mother, Sharon Stone  is surprisingly strong.  Just watch the scene where Linda’s mom explains to her that she has to go back to abusive husband because that’s what marriage is all about and you’ll see an example of great acting.  Even better is Robert Patrick, who brings a poignant sadness to the role of Linda’s father.  The scene where he tells Linda that he saw her on film is heartbreaking.

Lovelace is a film of hits and misses.  Sadly, it misses the big picture but a few individual parts and performances are strong enough to justify sacrificing spending 93 minutes to watch it.

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5 responses to “Film Review: Lovelace (dir by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

  1. I’ve not seen “Lovelace”, nor am I interested. The film seems even more undesirable after having read the above review.

    First things first, the notion of James Franco cast as Hugh Hefner is beyond ludicrous. People who really ought to know better have the audacity to sit there and wonder why I’m so pissed off with Hollywood these days. James Franco playing Hugh Hefner should sum it up for you.

    I can’t wait for future casting decisions made by Hollywood. Coming soon to a popcorn-littered multiplex near you….

    STALLONE: A biography about the popular Hollywood icon–Tobey Maguire stars as Sylvester Stallone!

    ARNOLD: Another dramatisation about a popular Hollywod superstar, and his journey from box office champion to Governor of California–Elijah Wood stars as Arnold Schwarzenegger!

    THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR: The life story of Ronald Reagan, largely concerned with his battle to turn the tide against communism in Europe, so that nation states such as Russia and Poland could also become miserable examples of the failure of American style capitalism. Bruce Springsteen plays the 40th President of the United States! Ellen DeGeneres makes a special appearance as First Lady Nancy! Co-starring Will Sasso in a sensitive portrayal of Mikhail Gorbachev!

    RELATIVITY: The untold story of celebrated German physicist Albert Einstein. Starring Will Smith as the legendary 20th century scientist!

    Do you see what I’m driving at here? Honestly, James Franco must be laughing himself silly at his good fortune.

    Franco: Y’ello?

    Franco’s Agent: Hey, Jim, it’s Slick here. Listen, I think there’s a role for you in this new film about Linda Lovelace. They need someone to play Hef, and I think you’re da man.

    Franco: Hef? As in Hugh Hefner?

    Slick, Franco’s Agent: Yeah, man, Hugh Hefner, you know, from the Playboy Mansion…

    Franco: Yeah, I know who he is, but c’mon man, I look absolutely nothing like him! How in the world is anybody going to believe me, James Franco, Hollywood heartthrob, in the role of Hugh Hefner? Have you seen him? He looks like a meerkat in a bathrobe! Honestly, you take away his mansion, that dude’s nothin’. I’m the sexiest man in Hollywood, Hef’s always looked like a bit of a creep.

    Slick, Franco’s Agent: Listen, man, just leave it all to your good buddy Slick…have I ever let you down?

    Franco: What about that movie where I had to pretend to have my arm caught under a fuckin’ rock in a cave…”Academy Award”, you said…

    Slick, Franco’s Agent: Aaaw, c;mon, man, the critics loved it, it was a hit!

    Franco: Then there was that business with Sean Penn in “Milk”. My female fans from the Bible Belt haven’t written to me since. There was this really cute high school chick from Utah, she only had six months until she was legal, I was gonna drive to Salt Lake City that spring, and…

    Slick, Franco’s Agent: C’mon, bub, forget about all that. Listen, they want YOU as Hugh Hefner, nobody else. You think they don’t know you look nothin’ like Hef? They don’t give a shit about artisitic integrity, they’ve already got some chick who looks positively nothing like Linda Lovelace involved in the film, this bimbo won’t even perm her hair, my pet poodle looks more like the real Linda Lovelace.

    Franco: Well…hmmm…okay. But you only get 10 percent from this deal instead of your usual 15.

    Slick, Franco’s Agent: Tweleve and a half.

    Franco: Fourteen

    Slick, Franco’s Agent: Sixteen.

    Franco: Deal.

    All kidding aside, this just reeks of pure Hollywood exploitation. I read that producer Patrick Muldoon said it’s meant to be a message movie about respecting women. Make of that what you will. Speaking for myself, I take that with a rather large grain of salt.

    • Personally, I would like to see Will Smith play Einstein. However, I would call the film I’ll Take The Manhattan Project. Basically, it would be a musical about the creation of the first atomic bomb and all of the major characters would be played by former Boy Band members. Justin Timberlake could play J. Robert Oppenheimer and Joey Fatone could play Gen. Groves. One Direction could play the scientists working in New Mexico.

      • I know I’m right on this one, because not even YOU, Lisa Marie Bowman, seem willing to defend the (mis)casting of James Franco as Hugh Hefner. It’s even more puzzling when you consider that it was only a cameo, anyway. What’s the point of paying the big bucks to Franco when he’s only in the film for a New York minute, and can only detract from the authenticity of the film? But I fear I’ve opened a can of worms on this one. No, I for one, certainly don’t want to see Will Smith playing anyone else from the real world. I still can’t believe he played Muhammad Ali. I guess the ego and shameless self-promotion were there, but looks-wise…honestly, Grace Jones would’ve been more convincing. What’s next, I wonder? Tracy Morgan as Mike Tyson?

        • Franco as Hugh Hefner was ….. interesting. Lol. I know that when the film was in pre-production, Franco was originally considered for the role of Chuck Traynor (which would have made a lot more sense). However, Franco got another offer while Lovelace was still in development so I think he agreed to do a cameo as a favor to the directors. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about Mr. Hefner but I do know that every time he used to show up on E!, I always thought to myself: “What an ugly, creepy little man.” So yeah, it was a bit odd to see him played by James Franco. :)

          • Not much to Hugh Hefner, really.

            What he’s achieved really isn’t at all admirable. Girly magazines had been around for many years. It just so happened that by cosmic fluke, Hef was born in a certain time and happened to come along at a period in American history when social attitudes to sex and censorship were changing. It doesn’t take a genius to do what Hef did, he simply got in on the ground floor of something that really took off in the middle of last century. Many will debate that he created the wave rather than simply riding it, but I remain unconvinced. What’s more, Hef has always played it safe. Look at the type of women who appear inside the pages of Playboy magazine. You’d be hard pressed to find even one woman who is different from the cookie cutter type of female. I mean, off-hand, I can’t even think of one Playboy centrefold who’s had short hair, for crying out loud. Nowadays, it’s worse than ever before. At least in the seventies, you could tell the Playmates apart.

            Basically, Hef is a fellow who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “enough”. He made a good-looking magazine, but let’s be honest, he’s a highly overrated individual. You want to give credit, how about all those photographers, artists, cartoonists, writers, not to mention the women who posed for his rag. Again, you may argue that Hef had a vision and was a driving force, but again, he pandered to mainstream perceptions, he didn’t reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

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