So what to make of the long-gestating biography of Linda Lovelace, the first adult film superstar, who was also one of the preeminent victims in porn culture? Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who have won Oscars for Best Documentary Feature, its well made and heartfelt, but ultimately I have to say it’s only worth a shrug of the shoulders.
Lovelace, real name Linda Boreman, was a typical young woman living in Florida, where she had moved with her parents after having a baby put up for adoption. Her mother (Sharon Stone) is rigid and doctrinaire, her father (Robert Patrick), easygoing. One day at a roller rink she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a bar owner. It was, as they say, her first mistake.
Traynor, who had a fabulous ’70s Fu Manchu mustache that today would make anybody suspicious, was a classic sleazeball (and Sarsgaard seems to specialize in playing guys like that). After marrying Linda, he pimps her out, and then, in need of cash, gets her a part in a pornographic movie. The makers of the film (played with wit by Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale) think she’s not va-va-voom enough, but when Traynor shows them a film of her talent at fellatio, they are convinced.
The resulting film, Deep Throat, was a cultural phenomenon that’s hard to understand today. She and the film became punchlines for jokes by Bob Hope and Johnny Carson (a particularly cruel one gets Stone, watching alone back at home, to change the channel). Lovelace becomes a celebrity, feted by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Hugh Hefner, but she doesn’t see any money, only Traynor does (enough to buy a gold Rolls Royce).
Then comes the fall, as Traynor’s abuse sends her to the opposite side of the spectrum, leaving him and the industry and writing a tell-all book and finding, briefly, happiness as a wife and mother.
This is occasionally fascinating, and the film held my interest, but ultimately Lovelace is not much of a character–she’s just a victim, and though it is extremely sympathetic to her, it doesn’t do her justice. From what I know, she was much more complicated that the portrayal here. For instance, the film shows her furiously resisting doing a follow-up to Deep Throat, mainly after hearing how her father saw the film. But in reality she did do Deep Throat II, and another film after that. Much later in life she did a nude shoot for the magazine Leg Show, so the story in the film, which ends in 1978 or so, had a lot more twists to it.
I did admire Amanda Seyfried as Linda. She doesn’t really look like her–Lovelace’s face was sharp angles, while Seyfried’s is cherubic–but she captures a certain inherent sorrow in the women that the script doesn’t provide. The scene when she comes crawling back to Stone, only to be turned away because her mother believes a woman belongs with her husband, no matter what he does to her, is heartbreaking (Stone says in exasperation, “What next, divorce? We’re not Protestants.”)
The depiction of the era of porn chic, with its ridiculous hairstyles and fashions, is kind of fun, especially James Franco’s deadpan take on Hefner, who experiences Lovelace’s talent firsthand in the balcony during a screening of the film.
But the film is really missing more depth to its title character. What made her tick? I still don’t know.
My grade for Lovelace: B-.