"Lovelace" becomes too distracted by industry politics and the cultural context of the film’s release to provide more than a snapshot of the actress' life
If we’re meant to see Linda Boreman (later Marchiano) as something other than the star of the benchmark blue movie "Deep Throat," "Lovelace" fails more or less completely to provide any reasons why.
The portrait of a young woman seduced by her own fame and then brutalized into protecting her husband’s, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s biopic of the actress and activist does an incredibly effective job portraying her rise and fall in the adult business.
But as a purported character study rather than a chronicle of porn’s early days — which have already been documented in detail — "Lovelace" eventually becomes too distracted by industry politics and the cultural context of the film’s release to provide more than a snapshot of her life either before or after she stepped in front of a camera.
Amanda Seyfried ("Les Miserables") plays the title character, an impressionable young woman lured away from the controlling influence of her mother Dorothy (Sharon Stone) by the seductive charms of drug dealer and amateur pornographer Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).
After marrying Traynor, he convinces her to star in "Deep Throat," a low-budget porno movie that turns Lovelace into a celebrity overnight. But Traynor’s insecurities — and his propensity for violence — force her into a fearful life of obedience to her husband as she struggles to figure out precisely who she is amidst a haze of drug addiction, prostitution and manipulation.
The film’s bifurcated structure offers a unique look at Lovelace’s life filtered first through the perception of events, and then through the reality. In the former, for example, Traynor is dangerously seductive; in the latter, just plain dangerous. But by pulling the curtain back just a bit broader when revisiting the same incidents a second time, Epstein and Friedman underscore the painful façade that Lovelace was forced to maintain while she dealt with Traynor’s violent reprisals in private.
Ultimately, what seems like an empowering coming of age for an uncertain young woman is shown for what it actually was — a dehumanizing prison built on a foundation of victimization and fortified with abuse.
But notwithstanding those “later that night/meanwhile, next door…” revelations that expose the dark corners of her budding success, the film still mostly manages to portray the production of "Deep Throat" as a sunny one, and the film’s subsequent reception as a celebration of feminism and empowerment which, unfortunately, happened to be marred (almost singularly) by Traynor’s presence.
Whether that depiction is fully truthful, Lovelace quickly becomes an embodiment of female subjugation rather than an actual three-dimensional character, so when she eventually liberates herself and moves on to the next phase of her life, there is virtually nothing there to highlight her personal victory in simply surviving.
Seyfried bares body and soul to breathe life into Lovelace’s troubled life story, but like the film itself, she never quite finds a focus for the character. And as Traynor, Sarsgaard exudes menace but from the start lacks the easygoing charm to make us (much less Linda) believe that he’s harmless.
Meanwhile, Epstein and Friedman pull off their elliptical narrative with an unassuming, sun-kissed style that distinguishes their film from other tales of ‘70s hedonism gone wrong, but its injustices invoke only cursory outrage, especially when framed by perfunctory third-act reconciliations.
It’s possible there simply wasn’t enough material of substance left over after "Inside Deep Throat" and other documentaries about the film to shine new light on the events depicted here, but for a biography of a woman whose unconventional talent stirred America’s cultural consciousness, and according to this film, plumbed the depths of female empowerment, Lovelace is at best skin deep.
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