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Friday, August 29, 2014

Lovelace

Lovelace: Boogie-Nights-light or Boogie-Nights-dark - that is the question...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

The true story of Linda Lovelace, the perhaps unwilling star of the most successful porn movie ever made, Deep Throat.

What we thought

The amount you'll get from this compelling but flawed biopic is almost directly proportional to how little you know about its subject. Or is that inversely proportional – I never was very good at maths. Either way, it does seem that the more you know about Linda Lovelace, the less the film will have to offer.

Weirdly, despite my general lack of interest in '70s porn, I actually know quite a bit about Deep Throat and its controversial star. I've seen the excellent documentary, Inside Deep Throat, and have even seen the BBC documentary The Real Linda Lovelace, since it was written and narrated by my favourite film critic, Mark Kermode. I doubt I'm alone in this. Linda Lovelace (real name Linda Boreman, later Linda Marchiano) has released a number of (often conflicting) books about her time in porn and later became an avid anti-porn crusader – all of which resulted in her becoming a somewhat infamous household name in the 1970s.

Lovelace, then, is a well-made but often overly safe telling of her story that is both far more compelling than its harshest critics would suggest and yet still something of a missed opportunity.

Perhaps its strangest misstep is the way the film effectively tells the same story from two different perspectives: first as a glamorized, porno-chic account that corresponds to the first biography released under Linda Lovelace's name (that she later claimed was all but entirely written by her abusive ratbag of a husband, Chuck Traynor) and then as the quite horrifying “real-story” as Lovelace told it in her later hit autobiography, Ordeal. It's a smart device theoretically, but the first part isn't glamorous enough, while the second part isn't harrowing enough, for the contrast to properly work. As the film is generally pretty short, it also means that both tellings of the story feel under-written.

As for the whitewashing of the story in general, the film certainly doesn't shy away from taking Linda's side, but it certainly doesn't portray the full extent of her apparent degradation. It's true, many doubt the veracity of much of what Lovelace said about her marriage to Chuck Traynor and her time as a porn star but, considering how little Traynor ever actually refuted what his ex-wife said about him (especially in his interview segments in The Real Linda Lovelace), it's hard to not take at least a significant portion of her accounts as fact. Either way, the extent of her abuse – culminating in being forced to take part in a bestiality video – is never fully explored or acknowledged by the film.

All this said though, Lovelace is still a compelling, interesting film with two excellent performances at its centre. Peter Sarsgaard is great as Chuck Traynor as he captures both the charm and the repellent grossness of the real life figure, playing up each side accordingly. Amanda Seyfried though is even better. Some have “complained” that Seyfried is significantly prettier than Linda Lovelace ever was – which is true but pretty much entirely irrelevant – but her portrayal of this incredibly na├»ve young woman is heartbreakingly on point.

Also of note are Robert Patrick and an unrecognisable Sharon Stone as Linda's parents who have their own very crucial part to play in their daughter's story – though the way they are portrayed changes significantly in the two versions of the story. In many ways, Lovelace makes the entire story of its subject as being one where the worst of puritanical old fashioned values meet the absolute worst of sexual liberation. And, though a significant part of the story does feel somewhat under-developed, this is one area to which the film does a fair amount of justice.

Overall, with its obvious occasional fear of its own subject matter, its not-entirely-successful storytelling device and its slightly televisual feel (its director's are better known for their TV work, after all), it's hard to fully recommend Lovelace. However, the story it tells is a compelling one (especially if you're unfamiliar with it) and, between its strong performances and cool '70s setting, there's still more than enough good about Lovelace to make it something worth checking out – though perhaps not at full price.


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