Film Review: Lovelace

Perfectly cast, acutely rendered drama based on the true story of accidental porn sensation Linda Lovelace and her abusive manager/husband delivers big-time as it captures recognizable characters from the seedy ’70s.

Filmmaking team Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (the James Franco-starrer Howl, The Celluloid Closet and several other award-winning, gay-themed docs) pull a Woody Allen in Lovelace by corralling a delicious array of today’s best acting talent (not mere “names” but actors’ actors).

But the duo go one better than Allen by blessing this terrific line-up with Andy Bellin’s sensational script and William Arnold’s savvy production design of an era that indelibly celebrates bad taste and haute-tackiness. Reviews, too, should help attract filmgoers—but fans probably won’t be lining up the way they did decades ago for gross high-grosser Deep Throat ($600 million?), Linda Lovelace’s one-hit wonder.

Inevitably, sex permeates the story but nothing is graphic (devilishly suggestive doesn’t count). What impresses here are the very real failings and needs that dog the characters. Penetration here isn’t what’s expected but that of human nature in its many forms—the drive, denials, distortions, desperation—that makes lives what they are.

In the case of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), born Linda Boreman, we’re reminded that nurture also has an important role. Lovelace first gives us Linda as a fun-loving, maybe too ordinary teen living with parents Dorothy (Sharon Stone) and John (Robert Patrick) and hanging with pal Patsy (Juno Temple) in a dreary lower-middle-class Florida community. When Linda and Patsy, on a whim, end up as dancers at a local club, local hustler Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers them and woos Linda.

We soon learn that Linda and her parents had recently moved from Yonkers, New York, where she had gotten pregnant and apparently carried the pregnancy to term. (Dorothy had also been a pregnant unwed teen with Linda.) Both parents, especially Mom, are bitter about the situation Linda precipitated. Dorothy is harsh with Linda and outwardly unloving. As for John, he’s a bit beaten, a passive skeptic, especially when Linda, now under Chuck’s spell, brings him to dinner as her new boyfriend to meet the parents. (In a credibility-straining scene, she and Chuck share a quickie in the kitchen as the parents remain seated in the dining room.)

Soon after, an unhappy Dorothy has Linda packing and running off with Chuck. They move in together, he teaches her how to perform an industrial-strength blow job, and they’re off. Chuck, a doper and scrambler who works at local dives and pimps and gambles, sees Linda as a promising meal ticket. New York City, where some porn-making acquaintances are beginning a production, beckons.

Chuck assures Linda that she will be auditioning for a real acting job (hey, the film has a real script). Lovelace soft-pedals the Deep Throat title, but the film taking shape in Manhattan boasts Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) as director, Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale) as producer, Chris Noth as slick money man Anthony Romano, Harry Reems (Adam Brody) as co-”star” and deep-throat beneficiary, and make-up maven Dolly (Debi Mazar).

Linda, elated that this film gives her a speaking role, is eventually talked into doing her star-making fellatio bit with Reems. Shot as a quickie, Deep Throat becomes a mega-hit (that Al Goldstein rave, that Hugh Hefner endorsement by way of James Franco as the Playboy publisher in a brief role, the glitterati who scramble to see it, etc.). Linda is catapulted into stardom by the ensuing media frenzy, which included a Playboy spread and Lovelace sex toys. But her mere 17 days in pornography, pressure to film sequels, and the ensuing notoriety take a terrible toll, primarily on Linda but also on her devastated parents.

Surprisingly, Lovelace, driven by its porn heroine, is really about denial—a theme milked by Bellin’s cleverly structured story. The film’s first half is mainly ’70s raunch and people having fun. But the darker aspects of what Linda endured unfold in the second half by way of a mix of flashbacks and flash-forwards as a post-porn, post-Chuck Linda takes a polygraph test to reinforce the credibility of her forthcoming memoir. And there are her TV talk-show appearances to promote the book, Ordeal. Her Phil Donahue appearance is neatly recreated here by way of the actual Donahue (in vintage footage) interviewing a remarkably convincing Seyfried as Linda. What emerges in this latter half are the abuses Linda underwent with Chuck, a gun-wielding, wife-beating, five-and-dime Phil Spector, but so completely denied.

Seyfried incarnates an unexceptional woman dealt a bad hand. Believable in all her iterations (loser, victim, self-deluder, even heroine), this Linda betrays a modesty, strength and humanity within everyone’s reach. (Her final, unexpected fate comes in an end title.) Sarsgaard perfectly evokes the ’70s sleazeball, right down to the facial hair, the ruffled shirts, the velvet jackets. But never does his Chuck, a familiar banal creep, slip into cliché. Supporting performers (Stone especially, and Cannavale, Azaria, Noth and Brody) are all spot-on.