Directors: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Juno Temple, James Franco
One of the great peculiarities of film history occurred in 1972. In the same year that The Godfather was released and took the place of Gone With the Wind as the highest grossing film of all time, the second highest grossing film of the year was a hard-core pornographic film called Deep Throat. Deep Throat was a sensation, crossing over to become a mainstream hit. It was reviewed in the mainstream media and discussed on television by the likes of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope. It is estimated that this film which cost a mere $24,000 to shoot has had a lifetime gross of $600m, making it surely the most profitable film of all time – though it has been suggested that its gross figures were slightly inflated by the mafia, who used their porno theatres to launder money. At the centre of the film’s success was a seemingly ordinary woman, Linda Boreman, who thanks to a very particular talent would become the world’s first pornography superstar, Linda Lovelace. Forty years later, her story has been brought to the screen in the biopic Lovelace.
Lovelace is the first feature film from the documentary team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. In its early passages the film seems to tell the story of a self-conscious young woman, raised in a conservative Catholic household, who falls in love with a shady man and despite her shyness agrees to perform in low-budget pornographic film to help him get out of debt, all with the hope that it might lead to a career as a legitimate actress. However, at the halfway mark the story skips ahead six years to the film’s pivotal moment. When Linda Boreman went to write her autobiography, Ordeal, the material contained in it was so libellous the publishing company insisted that she take a lie detector test to verify her claims before they would publish it. This polygraph test provides the basis for the second half of the film to go back to the beginning and retell many of the events we have just witnessed from a different perspective. As a result, the Lovelace’s first and second half give us the contrast between the public perception of Linda’s rise to celebrity and the private, disturbing reality of it.
Lovelace is a biopic, its primary focus is on the person of Linda Boreman. As such, it is not really concerned with exploring some of the other interesting areas around the Deep Throat phenomenon, like answering questions of how Deep Throat became such an unlikely hit and what were the contributing factors to this strange moment of porno chic. If those are the areas that interest you, you would be better served seeking out Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat.
Lovelace features a strong ensemble cast including the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Bobby Canavale, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick and James Franco, led by Amanda Seyfried in the title role. Over the last decade Seyfried has appeared in a number of high profile films – Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Mean Girls – but it is fair to say that until now she has never been called upon to carry a film. In Lovelace it is all on her, the success or failure of the film was largely going to come down to her ability to connect us to this character and she gives really comes to the fore delivering the strongest performance of her career. But while Seyfried makes us feel for Linda, eliciting a great deal of empathy for this woman trapped in an abusive relationship with no one to turn to, we don’t necessarily come to understand her a great deal more. I don’t know that Lovelace’s screenplay gives us any more insight into the character of Linda Lovelace and the events that took place than was already common knowledge.
Most films about the world of pornography tend to take a pro or anti-porn stance, and the real life Linda Lovelace did become a strong anti-porn activist, but viewers looking for such a stance will find it difficult to identify in Lovelace. The film doesn’t seek to make broad statements about the porn industry because when it comes down to it Lovelace isn’t a film about pornography. It is a film about an abusive relationship. Likewise, anyone buying a ticket to Lovelace expecting to be titillated will be sorely disappointed. This is not that kind of movie. There is nothing sexy about it. It is a heartbreaking story about a woman, victim to an abuse with extremely public consequences.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean