No Love Lost for ‘Lovelace’

[19 November 2013]

By Ben Travers

Some stories don’t need to be told, and even more don’t need to be told twice. The true story of Linda Lovelace could fall into both categories. While the true story of the Deep Throat actress/porn star hadn’t been told on film until now (other than the little known 2003 film Deeper Than Deep starring Patricia Arquette and Charlie Sheen), its depiction in Lovelace makes you wonder why it’s necessary right now.

By the end of it all, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman try to make a case for relevancy by focusing on the difficulties faced by Lovelace and how other porn stars face similar challenges. Um… because we don’t already know that? Is the world under the false impression that these performers lead glamorous lives? Are people envious of them? Jealous? Did anyone suspect Linda Lovelace had lived a perfect life, free from abuse, drugs, and manipulative “friends”? If they did, her biography, Ordeal, should’ve cleared up any doubts.

For those of you interested in seeing the big screen version, let me save you some of the trouble. Lovelace follows the basic format of most biopics. We start with our subject at a young age, before all of the insanity brought on by fame ensues. We meet young Linda living with her parents, innocently dancing with her friends, and basically being a good girl. She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t smoke. She doesn’t do drugs. Woah! What? A porn star who wasn’t always crazy? Keep reading for more shocking news!

What could possibly turn her to the dark side? Could it be a conniving boyfriend who’s thinly veiled legitimacy is so see-through he’s practically winking at the camera? You bet it is. Embodied by Peter Sarsgaard, a master in smarmy characters, Linda’s boyfriend-come-husband Chuck is a completely uncompel,ing character, due to his one-dimensionality. Does he love Linda? Obviously not. Does he have an unhealthy obsession with her? Obviously yes. Is he dangerous? You all know the answer by now.

All right. I feel like I’ve been a little harsh. Lovelace features a few fine performances, including a one-note but surprisingly affecting turn from an angry Sharon Stone as Linda’s disapproving mother. Robert Patrick plays the bewildered father well, and Adam Brody is as delightful as ever.

Much of the dramatic heft falls on the film’s lead and, for the most part, Amanda Seyfried handles the load well (please no one make any puns out of this). She conveys Linda’s blunt, emotional thought process without judgement and is excellent at acting badly. That’s no jab. Acting like a bad actor is no easy feat, and Seyfried’s portrayal of Linda when she’s “acting” is convincingly brutal but believable to the character. Seyfried doesn’t command the screen, but it’s hard to blame her when the material is this thin.

There’s one clever structural decision in Lovelace that occurs at the end of the second act, but it doesn’t have the revelatory force it could have in the hands of better directors. Veteran documentary filmmakers Epstein and Friedman create a few compelling visuals with cheap looking floral wallpaper and some sharp ‘70s costumes. They don’t, however, know quite what makes for a compulsory viewing experience.

In the Blu-ray’s one and only special feature, a 14 minute making-of featurette called “Behind Lovelace”, the directors describe seeing the footage of Linda on Donahue. That’s when they claim to know there was more to her than meets the eye. Funny. I would have guessed they learned that when they read her book.

The result of the duo’s lack of focus or odd choice of focus leaves Lovelace too simple. Too predictable. Too conventional. Too safe, an adjective completely inappropriate for a film about the ‘70s porn industry. As stated earlier, Lovelace lacks relevance. The biggest debate in the porn industry these days is how to get people to pay for it and whether or not actors should have to use protection during their onscreen intercourse. Neither are addressed here.

I don’t think modern porn stars have much to learn from Lovelace, nor do we have anything to learn from them through it. It feels like it’s coming out at the wrong time, though it’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t post-Boogie Nights.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/176397-lovelace/