Director - Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Freidman
Cast - Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
Distributor - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
Date - 01/01/14
The Film: 3/5
In 1970 aimless but sweet-natured Florida youth Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) meets the handsome and charming strip club owner Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) while go-go dancing at a roller rink with her friend Patsy (Juno Temple). They begin dating and eventually move in together and get married, putting her at odds with her conservative parents Dorothy (Sharon Stone) and John (Robert Patrick). Once the couple is joined in wedded bliss Chuck starts showing his true colors. Frequent run-ins with the law over soliciting prostitution and the financial strain they cause lead to Chuck hiring Linda out to porn filmmaker Gerald Damiano (Hank Azaria) and his producers/investors Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale) and Anthony Romano (Chris Noth). Linda nabs the lead in the saucy adult film Deep Throat over her unusual technique for orally pleasuring men (taught to her via hypnosis by Chuck) and soon has everyone involved with the production - including her co-stars Harry Reems (Adam Brody) and Dolly Sharp (Debi Mazar) - convinced that the movie will be a blockbuster. Deep Throat becomes the most popular and talked-about porno flick in American history and rakes in millions in profit while making a bonafide adult superstar out of Linda in the process. But her relationship to Chuck becomes increasingly hostile and violent, and her inability to expand her acting career into the mainstream and his shady dealings with Romano and the mob brings Linda to a crossroads in her life where she will have to decide if it's better to be famous and admired or forgotten and loved.
Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are no lightweights when it comes to making movies with provocative subject matter. Their previous effort Howl chronicled legendary Beat Generation writer Allen Ginsberg's obscenity trial over the publication of his groundbreaking poem that gave the film its title. They've also made remarkable documentaries like The Times of Harvey Milk, The Celluloid Closet, and Paragraph 175. So it's pretty sad to report that their latest feature film Lovelace is such a wash. Don't get wrong, it's a fine movie that doesn't overstay its welcome and contains some good performances and an occasional funny line of dialogue. But it should have been much, much more than that. The story of Linda Lovelace and her meteoric ascendance to the highest echelons of adult film stardom has been in the works for decades under the guidance of countless writers and directors. At one point Lindsay Lohan was mooted to play Lovelace in a film to be directed by Matthew Wilder entitled Inferno, but her substance and alcohol abuse problems and embarrassing public behavior scuttled those plans (Lohan was replaced briefly by Malin Akerman before the project fell apart). Epstein and Friedman deserve a lot of credit for finally getting a Linda Lovelace movie to the big screen. I only wish they had picked a far more interesting story to focus on than what is presented here.
Linda Lovelace is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of adult cinema for several good reasons. She rocketed to stardom on her uncanny abilities in the bedroom, but before the 70's was over she was denouncing her old lifestyle and recasting the events that lead to her fame in a darker, unpleasant light. She went from writing books about the joys of porn and living a life of sexual liberation to books about how she was a mental and physical prisoner of her brutish husband and a virtual slave of the pornography industry. Lovelace joined up with the rabidly anti-porn wing of the growing feminist movement skippered by the likes of Gloria Steinem and the late Andrea Dworkin and made appearances on Phil Donahue's daytime talk show and before a commissioned by Edwin Meese, the U.S. attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, formed to investigate the adult entertainment industry. In truth, Lovelace was exploited by just about everyone she came into contact with: her husband Chuck Traynor; the porn filmmakers and profiteers who were more than happy to keep her performing with a mouthful until the day she died; and eventually the self-righteous avengers of good taste who took Lovelace in and used her fleeting infamy to fuel their own misguided, pointless social and political crusades. That's just to name a few.
Lovelace runs a scant 93 minutes (85 without credits) and there's no way you can distill the wild, cruel, and complex life and career of a famous individual into a running time more befitting of a Disney animated feature. Epstein and Friedman felt that they could dodge that creative pitfall by focusing on Lovelace's involvements with Traynor and the porn industry and how they both forever altered the course of her life, but she was far from the most interesting story to come (no pun intended) out of the making of Deep Throat and how it correlated to the rise of adult cinema in the 1970's. In fact there has already been a great film made about that subject: the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. The filmmakers are simply exploring territory that has been visited before and recounted in greater detail by people far more suitable for the task. There's no way a movie as narrow-minded as Lovelace could ever do its subject matter proper justice. At the end of the day it's a Lifetime movie with a bigger budget and confused ambitions. Despite its plentiful flaws Epstein and Friedman have crafted an involving slice-of-life tale that is good to watch at least once, but it won't hold up under repeat viewings.
Amanda Seyfried is one of those actresses who has often had to rise above slighter material and inferior performers. She is attractive and has expressive doe eyes and her performance as Linda is better than it has any right to be. But it's hard to take her seriously as a porn star who was equally praised and ridiculed for her unconventional looks. Linda Lovelace didn't look like your traditional fuck flick actress; in the scene that introduces us to Deep Throat director Damiano and his financier Butchie Peraino (Azaria and Cannavale ooze sleaze with delightful aplomb, but both have done much better in the past) that much is pointed out to us by having Peraino bring in an actress with bright blonde hair and perky breasts that seems to fit a typical male's ideal of their fantasy woman. Seyfried just ruins that conception by being too damn pretty for the role in the first place. The part of her pathetic and violent Svengali Traynor falls to Peter Sarsgaard, an actor who knows how to wear the skin of the creepy and loathsome as comfortably as a fitted wedding tuxedo. Even though the real Lovelace tended to change her tune about her career in porn as much as Lady GaGa changes outfits during a concert, one aspect of her story that rarely was ever altered was the sordid depths Traynor would go to in order to control her mind and body. Sometimes her version of events skirted the edges of credibility unless you were willing to suspend disbelief, but at least Traynor's abuse of her was something that many of those inside their social circle and existing on the fringes could corroborate.
Sarsgaard sells on the bastard's cool charm and the Bondian precision with which he worms his way into Linda's welcoming heart, then makes his transition into being a possessive lout believable though the movie's truncated running time might have it appear to be quite jarring.
Lovelace might as well be a two-person show because the majority of the supporting cast fails to make much of an impression. Chris Noth's oily Romano seems almost fatherly in his scenes with Linda, even though he's making millions over her underpaid labors and kindly prodding her into returning to porn when she threatens to leave that life behind forever. Hhe does get her some properly brutal payback on Chuck towards the end of the movie in the only scene that left a goofy smile on my face. Adam Brody is severely miscast as Harry Reems - do the makers of this movie even know anything about the man and what he looked like? - but fortunately he is able to make Reems one of the few sympathetic characters in Linda's world. I'm not exactly sure if James Franco was either stoned out of his gorgeous and multi-faceted gourd or half-asleep when he filmed his brief scenes as Playboy founder and bathrobed overlord Hugh Hefner. I prefer to think he did the part as a favor to the directors as he had previously starred as Allen Ginsberg in Howl. Juno Temple, Debi Mazar, Wes Bentley, Eric Roberts, and Chloe Sevigny (the latter having co-starred with Sarsgaard in Kimberly Pierce's 1999 Oscar-winner Boys Don't Cry) all make glorified cameos as various friends, co-stars, and professionals who find themselves briefly in Linda's orbit.
Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick don't bring much but their own screen personas to the roles of Linda's ashamed parents. Epstein and Friedman chose to end the movie with Linda renouncing her life as a porn star and returning to the folks with a husband, son, and tail tucked between her legs. Given how these same people had turned their backs on her when she attempted to leave the abusive Chuck - her mother even tried to lay the blame at Linda's feet for the beatings - and then continue to reject her when she found fame as the star of Deep Throat I can't look at this ending as a happy one. Once again the filmmakers leave out huge chunks of Linda's life post-Deep Throat that a uninitiated viewer might think that one porno was all she ever did. They don't even begin to mention her involvement in the vastly inferior Deep Throat II (which was cut to an R rating and its hardcore sex scenes believed to be lost or destroyed), her attempt at a mainstream acting career with the comedy feature Linda Lovelace for President, the three other books she wrote besides Ordeal (the writing and publication of which is a major plot point in the final scenes), or any of the other fascinating stories surrounding the making of Deep Throat - such as the legal troubles that befell Linda's co-star Harry Reems, or how the massive grosses the movie brought in at the box office helped keep the Mafia fat and happy (and not just on four course Italian meals) throughout the 1970's. Nowhere in Lovelace is it mentioned that Butchie Peraino was a New York mobster and that Deep Throat's budget was provided by his father Anthony, a made man in the Colombo crime family. Director Gerald Damiano was entitled to a healthy share of the profits but was ultimately forced out of the arrangement and forced to accept a lump sum payment of $25,000. Plus, the movie's cultural impact is barely touched upon, with the exception of some archival television clips of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope making jokes about it to their befuddled audiences. The Perainos later formed the film distribution company Bryanston Pictures and found themselves rolling in more legally-obtained dough thanks to the success of releases like Bruce Lee's The Way of the Dragon (released in the U.S. as The Return of the Dragon) and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But as I mentioned before, this has been covered before and with greater attention and consideration for the facts. Shame that a pair of seasoned documentary filmmakers like Epstein and Friedman felt the need to take so many dramatic liberties with this story when all it did was make their movie bland and ordinary.
It's a very good thing then that the movie looks as good as it does. Cinematographer Eric Edwards (a veteran whose past credits include Eagle Pennell's Last Night at the Alamo, Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, Larry Clark's Kids, and James Mangold's Cop Land) gives Lovelace the aged and sun-dappled look of a faded film print from the 70's and the look fits the film brilliantly. The low-fi funkified music score by Stephen Trask (co-composer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and composer for films like The Station Agent and Sex Drive) stands out well among the laundry list of oldies' station standards assembled for the persistent soundtrack.
Anchor Bay's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is very clean and maintains the rich texture and faded 70's-style look of Edwards' cinematography. The garish fashions, cut-rate porn sets, and era-appropriate props are shine through with fine detail and boisterous colors. An English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track backs up the movie adequately with sharp resolution for the dialogue and strong volume levels for the K-Tel collection-ready soundtrack. No problems at all here. English and Spanish subtitles have also been provided.
The extra features begin with upfront previews for Twenty Feet from Stardom and Cutie and the Boxer. The only supplement related to the movie is the behind-the-scenes featurette "Behind Lovelace" (14 minutes), which despite its porny pun title (possible unintentional) is a reasonably decent look at the making of Lovelace with short interviews with the directors and select members of the cast. Don't anything too penetrating though (snicker). Sarah Jessica Parker reportedly shot a cameo as Gloria Steinem but those scenes were left out of the final cut and have not been included here as an extra.
Lovelace is a well-made and entertaining movie, but it's also very slight and forgettable when all is said and done. With good acting and a fast pace it manages to overcome most of its many flaws to be a nice little work of cinema that one might enjoy if they've never seen Boogie Nights or Inside Deep Throat before. I would recommend either of those films long before the name of Lovelace escaped my lips. Anchor Bay's solid DVD presentation guarantees more than a few satisfied customers.