It’s hard to imagine now, when a wide variety of sexual activity is available for your perusal just a few clicks away on the Internet, but watching porn used to be difficult. Most folks had to leave their home or office and go to an actual movie theater. Cinematic porn was big business, too: It’s estimated that Deep Throat, the 1970s “porno” movie that made the deepest inroads into American popular culture, grossed over $600 million.
Lovelace tells the story of Deep Throat’s star, Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), a nice Catholic girl from the great Northeast. She had the misfortune, however, to marry abusive asshole Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a strip-club owner who pimped her out to pay his debts and introduced her to the porn industry.
It isn’t a pretty story.
The filmmakers decided to tell this story twice. The first part of the film shows the “happy” moments, as Lovelace is introduced to the trio of pornographers (Hank Azaria, Bobby Carnavale and Chris Noth, all terrific) who will help make her an international sensation, through a triumphant, celebrity-filled Hollywood screening of Deep Throat at which Lovelace is accompanied by Hugh Hefner (James Franco). The second part of the film goes back to the beginning and fills in the (horrific) blanks: the violence, the prostitution, the cruelty.
It’s not a terrible narrative strategy, but it really doesn’t work. In part, this is simply because Seyfried and Sarsgaard are very good. You’d have to be some kind of a moron not to realize that Traynor is vicious and Lovelace is scared to death. It’s also a failure because the filmmakers want to have their cake and eat it, too. The first time through, the directors get to make blowjob jokes and audience gets to laugh; the second time, the filmmakers get to be serious and viewers get to feel bad about laughing at the dick jokes.
The latter is especially annoying if you’re familiar with Lovelace’s memoir; her life was much, much darker than the film lets on.
Despite the unwieldy structure, Seyfried makes Linda Lovelace a real, multidimensional character capable of being proud of her success and miserable about everything that surrounds it.
The rest of the cast is quite good, including Robert Patrick and an unrecognizable Sharon Stone as her parents, Adam Brody as porn star Harry Reems, and Juno Temple as Linda’s best friend.
Eric Roberts and Chloe Sevigny show up in odd, brief cameos; Roberts is a polygraph expert and Sevigny is a journalist. I’d like to think that there was, originally, more to each of their parts in this mess of a movie. I suspect, however, that they’re in the picture because Roberts played the abusive, murderous husband of Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratton in Bob Fosse’s Star 80, and Sevigny performed fellatio on Vincent Gallo in The Brown Bunny. Lovelace is that kind of a movie.
And yet, the picture manages to be true to Lovelace’s struggle, in large part owing to Seyfried’s performance. If the filmmakers could only manage to get one thing right, a nonexploitive depiction of Linda Lovelace had to be that one thing.