AS THE NAME implies, “Lovelace” is a biopic of the woman whose lack of a gag reflex helped transform the seedy porn movie industry in a highly profitable porn movie industry…though still seedy. Hers was the throat that launched a thousand imitators and earned her producers over $600M. She herself earned the less than princessly sum of $1250.
The movie’s first twenty minutes is uncomfortably jaunty; a semi-comic breeze through Ms. Lovelace’s (Amanda Seyfried) transformation from prudish virgin to ‘head girl’. Her performance for the cameras in front of her husband, Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) and his delighted backers (Chris Noth and others), is an epiphany to all: their realization that they’ve found so much more than a porno star – a stellar cash dispensing machine. “Deep Throat”, we are shown, changed the appeal of cinematic penetrative pulchritude from that of Mackintosh wearers (those days remember were before the advent of DVD’s) to enthused gender-neutral audiences everywhere. For a nation drowned in the despair of Vietnam, here was a turn on more thrilling than pot. Indeed, at the height of its popularity, Linda Lovelace’s misplaced clitoris was probably as well known as its humorous commentator – Johnny Carson.
All good then?
Maybe not so. It is at this point, as we see a much older Linda sitting a polygraph test to prove the accuracy of the book she’s written about it all, that the outer layers of the onion are peeled back and the movie darkens. We are guided away from the carefully constructed image of a victimless, profitable, even glamorous industry to the reality that lies within: here is the true version of her life and marriage – a marriage of sustained emotional and psychological violence; a life of abuse, degradation and prostitution.
There are many issues the movie touches upon – the patronizing and casual misogyny of male/female relations at the time (the men in the movie constantly refer to the women as “sweetheart”, “babe” etc); and the deep hypocrisy of a time when sexual and gender relations were on the cusp of the so-called liberation, as dramatized by the mother’s (Sharon Stone) warped sense of marital loyalty and prudishness.
But at its heart, it’s a movie that’s both about the idea of identity and the need for personal freedom; and about the driving corruption of commerce.
Linda’s story is one of a woman who has to continually re-imagine herself in order to escape her dire circumstances. As Linda Boreman – her unmarried name – she must flee her stern, unflinching mother – a woman of unyielding morality; one that, in a way, is the catalyst for her fall from grace. Dorothy Boreman’s counsel to her desperate daughter, fleeing the persecution of her increasingly deranged husband is to stick by him and obey, no matter what. As the skin of Linda Lovelace becomes its own trap, (any woman who’s done it on camera is fair game, no?), she has to escape again to a safer, more honest persona. Lovelace itself is a fictional name…not the name of a real person, but the invention of a male fantasy. But fleeing the magnetic pull of her husband and her avaricious producers is difficult. In one scene, as a desperate Lovelace tries to escape, her flight is essentially thwarted by a couple of police officers. As Linda is lying bludgeoned on the road with her husband next to her, the officers see only a famous movie star and object of lusty desire. She wants freedom, they want her autograph.
In the end, Ms. Boreman becomes Mrs. Taynor (her married name) and then the deep throat Lovelace and finally she morphs Mrs. Cannavale, mother and happy wife. As she said, “I refuse to let seventeen days in front of a camera define who I am”. A long journey.
Freedom at last.
Throughout the movie, there is talk about money. Who earns what; who owes who; what the takings on “Deep Throat” are; how the profits are split etc. Linda is never seen by her producers as fully human – she’s simply the money shot. Her fight for freedom and identity is a fight to escape not only her husband, but a world of financiers, intent upon “Deep Throat” Part Two. (One wonders how much of this was a comment on the present parlous state of Hollywood as the likes of Hugh Jackman et al whore themselves out to the millionth version of Wolverine)
There has been much written as to the accuracy of this portrait. The real Linda Lovelace changed her story several times (she wrote four autobiographies) as she presumably sought to direct her readers’ attention away from the porn star to the born again Christian. Her co-stars regarded her as an inveterate liar.
It doesn’t matter. This is an account of a persona called Linda Lovelace, who, in the eyes of co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“Howl”) is a symbol for and exploration of the trapped, abused wife/paramour. Their clever reveal as we leave one truth (she’s really enjoying fellating a series of men) to expose the ‘reality’ nicely expresses the lie of prostitution as some sort of generally victimless crime. They needed to tread ground quite carefully in how Linda was portrayed: a story that seethes with moral outrage could easily have become an excuse for a voyeurs’ peek at Seyfried’s voyeur-worthy beauty. But the few scenes of nudity are never presented through the lens of a leering camera.
Seyfried herself IS the movie. She’s in virtually every scene, which is quite a dramatic leap from her small whimpering role in “Les Miserables” and the truly dreadful “In Time”. And she pulls it off reasonably well. She seems more comfortable as the happy-go-lucky fantasy Linda that as the beaten, battered wife.
The two powerhouse actors of the movie, who lend it resonance and gravitas are Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck, the abusive husband and a haggard, lined, gaunt Sharon Stone, as her tight-lipped, bitter mother. Sarsgaard’s performance is all shape-shifting: one moment he’s the charmer who woos Linda away from her small town home, the next he’s the uber monster, until he shifts into a cringing, money grubbing sleazebag, all too eager to pimp his wife to anyone with cash. I suspect we’ll see more and more of Sarsgaard, if he can find better roles (he was the center of gravity in “An Education”; but then again he was in “Knight and Day” and “Green Lantern”)
All in all, “Lovelace” isn’t as good as it should have been (a dreadful cop-out resolution at the end feels false), but is nowhere as bad as it could have been.
Worth the price of the ticket!