Editor’s note: Kate’s review of Lovelace originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend.
For whatever reason, the story of adult film legend Linda Lovelace has proven to be particular enticing material as of late, with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Lovelace only the first of two Lovelace biopics to hit screens this year. Epstein and Freidman’s film is the one that stars Amanda Seyfried as Lovelace (or Boreman, or Marchiano, depending on the particular period of her life you are referring to) and Peter Sarsgaard as her bastard husband/Svengali, Chuck Traynor (because, really, who better to play the necessary bastard/Svengali role than Sarsgaard?). A generally straightforward and uninspired biopic (beyond a somewhat interesting storytelling conceit that pops up about midway through the film), Lovelace tracks Lovelace’s unlikely rise from regular girl to America’s most famous porn star, thanks to her starring role in 1972’s seminal hardcore pornographic film, Deep Throat. Like a lot of porn, Lovelace is often aimless, basically boring, and dead unsexy.
While nearly all biopics are streamlined for ease and narrative clarity (real life is just so messy, after all), the film presents an incredibly simplified version of Lovelace’s story that actually removes some of the most shocking aspects of Lovelace’s colorful and painful life. Despite its presentation in the film, Deep Throat was not Lovelace’s first porno – she had previously starred in a number of “loops,” short silent films that would play at peep shows. As shocking as Deep Throat was to the general public, much of what Lovelace did in those loops was far, far worse and much more deviant. Of course, that skew doesn’t fit into the narrative that Lovelace presents, so it’s completely absent from the film. Rumors of drug addiction also plagued Lovelace but, again, that portion of her life has been excised from Epstein and Friedman’s film.
What Lovelace offers instead of a hard-bitten and fact-based drama is an often very tame telling of Lovelace’s infuriating (and quite sad) life, focused primarily on Lovelace’s life just before the start of her romance with Chuck Traynor, through her brief porn career, and on to the incredibly unsatisfying years following her bizarre burst into popular culture. The film makes exactly one interesting storytelling choice – after watching Lovelace’s story seemingly wind to its end, the film then goes back and retells the entire story through Lovelace’s eyes, shading in some important details and illuminating a far different side to Linda and Chuck’s marriage – but even that one clever bit loses steam and goes on for far too long. It’s aggravating on its own, but when the last ten minutes of the film attempts to cover an entirely new chapter in Lovelace’s life post-porn, it seems like an even more egregious time-waster.
Luckily for Lovelace, the film does have one thing on its side – consistently good performances by its entire cast. Seyfried and Sarsgaard are both solid as the tortured (and, often, torturing) Traynors and while Sarsgaard is acting almost totally in his wheelhouse, it’s nice to see Seyfried tap into her talent and do something far out of her normal range here. In terms of supporting work, Robert Patrick is responsible for the film’s most genuinely heartbreaking moment, Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale are perfectly acceptable as amusingly skeevy porn producers, and Sharon Stone completely disappears into the role of Linda’s deeply troubled disciplinarian mother.
The Upside: Thoroughly solid performances from a talented cast.
The Downside: A tame, bloodless, and general uninteresting take on compelling material that seems to want to impress because of its one somewhat clever bit of storytelling technique; feels like a television movie with high production quality; shockingly sexless for a film about porn.
On the Side: The other Lovelace biopic, Inferno, is currently in pre-production, with Malin Akerman set to play Linda and Matt Dillon on board to portray Chuck.