Film Review: ‘Lovelace’ (2013)
Photos: Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace, in LOVELACE. Courtesy of Radius-TWC.
The breakout performance of Linda Boreman, better known as Linda Lovelace, in the 1972 adult film Deep Throat left a permanent stain on the pornographic film industry – pun intended. Lovelace’s lurid popularity grew so rapidly, she became known as a fellatio virtuoso of sorts – attaining a level of celebrity previously unimaginable for an actress in her field. The erotic film was the first of its kind to attract a serious theatrical audience, grossing almost $600 million dollars on an initial expenditure of less than $50,000. Linda Lovelace only ever collected a salary of $1,250.
At the heart of Lovelace is a true story of fame, abuse, and betrayal set against the sexual revolution. Linda (played by Amanda Seyfried) begins the story as the quintessential girl next door, extremely obedient with innocence radiating from her freckled face. Trapped in a strained relationship with her draconian mother (Sharon Stone, in a stone-cold compulsory Oscar bid) and sullen father (Robert Patrick), everything about Linda’s character is desperately screaming for freedom. The opportunity arises when she meets Chuck Traynor, who is the catalyst in her metamorphosis to Linda “Lovelace.”
In the first act of the story, Chuck hurriedly brings the film from its exposition in working-class Davie, Florida during the fun-loving ’70s era of roller rinks and go-go dancing, to the turbulent world of drugs and porn. Chuck (played by Peter Saarsgard) is provocative and charming with a suave persona that wins over both Linda and her parents alike. However, when Linda moves in with Chuck, he quickly accelerates her maturation and broadens her sexual horizons, urging Linda towards her imminent career.
Given that this project must have faced every obstacle in the development process towards a greenlight, the seemingly obscene topic is dealt with class and tact by the filmmakers. Coming from a journalistic background, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman treat the story with an intelligence that is seemingly incongruent with Lovelace’s own enigmatic character. The directors approach the biographical material with a probing, investigative eye, similar to how Howl—perhaps their most celebrated film together—deconstructs an icon through the clutter of a cultural stigma. The duo is able to delve immediately into an in-depth analysis, and in this case, a contemplation of who Lovelace really is: both legend and woman, performer and individual.
The most compelling element of the film is its structure. The filmmakers depart from the typically linear biopic style to convey a more engaging order of events. Lovelace is told, and retold, through the lens of Linda’s own psyche—different perspectives that evolve as she does. Friedman explains: “We wanted to find a structure that reflected her psychological state at each of these significant moments in her life.”
In the story, when the Deep Throat frenzy hits its peak, the film cuts ahead six years to Linda taking a polygraph test to authenticate her accusations against Chuck Traynor as she prepares to sign a contract for her tell-all book, Ordeal. It is not until we are given this glimpse into Linda’s current life that we then retreat to explore the events of the past six years, providing a new and utterly contradictory narrative where Linda is now the victim of her own twisted success story. For the very first time, we see the beatings, the forced gang rapes, the pressure to make Deep Throat sequels, and all of the other horrors brought on by Chuck—Linda’s evidently abusive, power-hungry, and misogynistic husband. This is when Saarsgard really sparks, exposing his character as the brutal and threatening menace Traynor really was. Chuck controls every aspect of Linda’s life, keeping her profits, forcing her into prostitution, and essentially enslaving her, all while commandeering the Lovelace brand.
As Lovelace Enterprises grows, Linda loses all control of her own estate to Chuck. In an attempted escape, Linda runs away from their Malibu home, and finds herself fallen between Chuck and two police offers on the street. Afraid of her husband but desperately seeking their help, Seyfried delivers a vigorous performance, acting with her eyes, imploring, begging the officers to see what is truly going on, but they are unreceptive to her silent cries and simply ask for her autograph, putting the nail in Linda’s lonely and helpless coffin. Seyfried creatively and artistically explores the themes of Lovelace in this scene, rising up against her villain, but not quite strong enough to completely disobey him. She conveys the insecurity and struggle that Linda faces, realizing at this point she has lost all credibility, making it that much more of a transcendence when, six years later, she decides to speak out against her abuse.
The film cuts forward these six years to the release of Ordeal. The audience finds Linda in an entirely new setting: raising a family and appearing on The Phil Donahue Show, asserting that Linda Lovelace “was a fictitious character.” She has transformed from the ultimate sex puppet centerfold to a feminist hero of sorts. In one of the most well directed scenes of the film, we see this new version of Linda for the first time just as her parents do—through a television set in their living room. Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick serve as flawless markers of Linda’s struggle throughout the story, conveying both pride and embarrassment at appropriate times.
In a most poignant scene, Linda’s father tells her on the telephone that he has seen Deep Throat. This leads to Linda’s defiance of Chuck when she refuses to act in any more films. Her rebellion, however, quickly fades in another scene in which Linda seeks shelter from Chuck at her mother’s house. Sharon Stone, in a scene that deems her an awards contender, tells Linda to go home and obey her husband, sending her back to be bruised and battered. Epstein and Friedman, masters of mise-en-scene, shoot this scene with Linda pinned against a backdrop of sunflower wallpaper in her childhood home, suggesting all of the innocence and vulnerability that her mother refuses to acknowledge as she catechizes Linda, asking what she did to make Chuck hit her.
Beyond Stone and Patrick, the supporting roles in Lovelace are very well filled by the likes of Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, Juno Temple, Eric Roberts, Chris Noth, and Adam Brody as Linda’s fun-loving co-star Harry Reems.
To say that Lovelace is uplifting at the end is a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact that Linda Boreman was able to drop the “Lovelace” moniker and attain a level of normalcy provides a sense of vindication. The film positions itself unquestionably as a serious investigation of its topic, but is cognizant of the comedic subject matter and makes a point to laugh at itself with carefully placed jokes by Brody and other supporting cast members. Lovelace’s real story resonates with its audience and will influence popular understanding of victimization and expose a fairly unknown narrative’s darker truths.
LOVELACE opens in theaters and on-demand August 9th, 2013.