Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Brody, Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Noth, Robert Patrick, Sharon Stone, James Franco
Committed performances from an excellent cast fail to save this shallow and confused biopic of ‘70s porn icon Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), star of the infamous Deep Throat.
The film, by noted documentarians, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, best known for the excellent The Celluloid Closet, is a film of two halves, the first portraying Lovelace’s – born Linda Boreman – journey from girl next door to adult superstar as a glamorous odyssey through the upper echelons of the sexual revolution, while the second peels away those illusions to reveal her abuse and degradation at the hands of her exploitative husband, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).
It’s an interesting idea, retracing the same events from disparate viewpoints (shades of Rashomon, when you get right down to it), but the result is not so much intriguing ambiguity as wearying repetition. The actual Linda Lovelace story is a complex and at times contradictory one, as a cursory glance at the accounts of those involved will show – Lovelace herself was the author of four largely incompatible autobiographical volumes. It’s also a very uncomfortable one, raising many awkward questions about consent, accountability and celebrity.
Epstein and Friedman, in conjunction with screenwriter, Andy Bellin, fail to tackle these matters in any meaningful way, and the result is an overly simplified, at times woefully black and white film. While there’s no doubt that Traynor was a scumbag, it’s a bit rich to position mobster and porn financier Anthony Romano (Chris Noth) as Lovelace’s saviour and the agent of our righteous retribution in a scene where he beats the tar out of a helpless Traynor. It also doesn’t help matters that many of the more controversial elements of Lovelace’s life have been excised or altered.
You can’t fault the cast, though. Seyfried’s turn as Lovelace is remarkable, and Sarsgaard’s portrayal of Traynor as a charming monster, his charisma concealing an ever-present rage and self-loathing, leaves a mark. Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale, playing pornographers Gerard Daminao and Butchie Peraino, seem to have dropped in from a lighter, funnier take on the material, counterpointing Sharon Stone and biopic regular Robert Patrick as Lovelace’s scandalised parents. James Franco’s cameo as Playboy impresario Hugh Hefner, however, is simply distracting.
Hampered by jarring tonal shifts and a simplistic thesis, Lovelace lacks the energy, verve and boldness of purpose as subgenre stablemate Boogie Nights, which it obviously hoped to emulate. Neither scandalous nor scathing, it is, despite its frequent sex and nudity, a prudish and blindly moralistic film, about on par with a Hallmark movie in terms of its complexity. Doubtless there’s a good film to be made about the life and times of Linda Lovelace, but this is certainly not it.
_ TRAVIS JOHNSON