Put it away, boys, the days of grimy porno theaters are long since dead. This latest unsexy, problematic spin on the story of Linda Lovelace is an excuse to mention her because people remember her name. The movie has precious little else to say yet manages to repeat itself silly.
As the real girl next door, Linda Boreman never seemed to get a break. After fleeing from her unhappy, religious home, she unwittingly landed in the arms of an abusive pimp (later husband) who hustled her into snuff films and forced prostitution. Rechristened Linda Lovelace and given the starring role in the now infamous Deep Throat, Linda got her name in lights, became a household name, and was the first porn superstar. But the abuse took its toll, and Linda finally railed against her husband, Chuck Traynor, and the industry she said exploited her.
As the first biopic to depict her life, Lovelace is an ugly and tedious slight against its audience and subject. Cinematographically speaking, it’s unpleasant to look at. Dim, granulated, and faded out to look old; certain scenes almost seem out of focus. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman were careful enough fade to black to skip out on sex and rape scenes to earn their seal of approval from the MPAA, but it’s also the only show of restraint in the movie. After about forty-five minutes into the film, it starts over in order to properly detail the cruelties that Traynor inflicted. A poolside wrap party now ends with a horrific beating, and he nearly chokes her on her wedding night. The overall effect seems intended to show the unseen ugly side of her relationship, but the repetition dulls the shock until you’re expecting the horror.
Lovelace packs in a cavalcade of stars, including Juno Temple, James Franco and Sharon Stone, but doesn’t exactly know how to use them. Instead, viewers get to play a game of “Where’s Waldo,” celebrity edition. Temple’s delightful, but she’s on-screen as Boreman’s pal all too briefly. Franco looks like he wandered on set with the worst Hugh Heffner impression this side of a stale Saturday Night Live sketch. It’s cheap filler: lining up names to get that actor’s fans to watch or to add respectability an otherwise tiresome movie.
Incidentally, the most powerful performance comes from Peter Sarsgaard’s sleazy and manipulative Chuck Traynor. His intensity is chilling; he barely looks like he’s in control—it makes the terrible Traynor terrifying. On the other hand, poor Amanda Seyfried is baring it all for her role, and it hardly registers. There’s only so many sad puppy dog eyes an actress can make to further character development. Even when it comes time for her big “stand-up for herself” moment, she’s in another room while her producer and mob men take care of her abuser.
Lovelace desperately wants to recapture Boogie Nights’ groove, but it’s way off rhythm. In the directors’ quest for authenticity, they failed to capture the humanity behind Linda Lovelace. In this movie, Boreman is meant to only survive her story, only to retrofit Seyfried onto the Phil Donahue Show to deliver an apology to her character’s parents. It’s a stunted ending to a complicated story, one that was lost on the way to the theater.
Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Writer: Andy Bellin
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, James Franco
Release Date: Aug. 9, 2013