Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman. Starring Amanda Seyfried, James Franco, Sarah Jessica Parker, Juno Temple, Wes Bentley, Sharon Stone, Hank Azaria, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloë Sevigny, Eric Roberts, Adam Brody, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Debi Mazar, Cory Hardrict, Bobby Cannavale, Sofia Karstens, Don McManus. Written by Andy Bellin, Merritt Johnson.
In Lovelace, a biography of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Howl) that focuses on the making of Deep Throat and the actress’ relationship with manager/pimp Chuck Traynor, things start out quite innocently, capturing the sudden rise to fame of the biggest porn star in the world.
At the outset, Linda Boreman is a timid 20-year-old living the Florida suburbs with her strict parents (who have reason to be strict – a year earlier, she gave birth to a child who was given up for adoption). In a whirlwind, she meets and marries Traynor, who teaches her the unique talent that will make her a star and sells it to Deep Throat writer-director Gerard Damiano and producer Butchie Peraino.
At the height of her popularity, Lovelace is given the red carpet treatment at a gala screening attended by Sammy Davis Jr. and Hugh Hefner. Deep Throat was the film that brought porno into the mainstream, and its star became a household name; regardless of its actual quality or the circumstances surrounding its production, the film was undeniably a landmark event not just in cinema, but in American history.
The quasi-innocence of Lovelace’s first 45 or so minute is almost – almost – a refreshing take on the material. But anyone familiar with the story of Linda Lovelace knows that controversy surrounds the star’s participation in the film. Halfway through, the directors rewind to showcase the relationship between Lovelace and Traynor in a different light: Chuck beat her viciously, forced her to star in Deep Throat against her will, and even forced her at gunpoint to sleep with a group of men in a Florida hotel room.
The film, in a sense, mimics how the public perception of Lovelace – her story – might have changed over the years. After Deep Throat (the only X-rated feature the star made) and her early biographies, she was the darling of the porno world; with the publication of Ordeal in 1980 and her claims against Traynor and the porn industry, she become a leading anti-porn activist.
But the film, from a script by Andy Bellin which largely incorporates Lovelace’s Ordeal, wants to work both ways: as a success story about the world’s first porn queen, and as a cautionary tale about a troubled young girl led down the wrong path.
Dramatically, it doesn’t come off. In order to make the first half work, the filmmakers have to soften the blow: Lovelace’s early films, including a loop featuring her having sex with a dog, are completely left out, her drug and alcohol addictions glossed over, and the porn industry (including their mafia connections) is never really taken to task. The second half of the film is appropriately downbeat, but in a Lifetime movie-of-the-week kind of way; if we’re to believe Lovelace’s version of the events, as the filmmakers seem to do, this should be a positively horrifying story.
Boreman is played by the wide-eyed, effervescent Amanda Seyfried, who can effortlessly liven up any film – and is all sorts of wrong for the role of the damaged, abused girl-next-door porn star (Lindsay Lohan, who was rumored to be up for the role in Matthew Wilder’s Inferno, a competing Lovelace biopic, was a much more inspired choice; that role ending up going to former porn star Sasha Grey, who is also miscast).
The supporting cast, meanwhile – filled with familiar names and faces – is outstanding. Robert Patrick and (an unrecognizable) Sharon Stone star as Boreman’s parents, whose tough love forced her into the arms of Traynor, played by Peter Sarsgaard. He’s the most memorable aspect of the film, as the venomous, hate-filled pimp-cum-manager in whom Lovelace finds a clear villain.
Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, and Adam Brody portray characters involved in the making of Deep Throat; Brody, as star Harry Reems, and Azaria, as director Gerard Damiano, are particularly sympathetic. Juno Temple, Chloë Sevigny, Eric Roberts, Wes Bentley, and James Franco (in a bizarre cameo as Hugh Hefner) also appear. Sarah Jessica Parker shot scenes as activist Gloria Steinem, but her role was cut from the final film.
Ultimately, Lovelace feels like a missed opportunity. Depending on who you believe, Linda Boreman was either an unknown who inadvertently became the world’s biggest porn star (and made the most of her stardom), or a troubled girl who was forced into the sex business against her will. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman try to get both versions of the story to work, and fail to make a dramatically compelling feature in the process. Check out Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato excellent doc Inside Deep Throat for a better overview of the making of Deep Throat and Lovelace’s participation.