Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Chris Noth
If you believe Linda Lovelace’s later memoirs and public protestations, the story of her involvement in the porn industry is filled with sadness, the tale of an abused woman dragged down a destructive path.
It’s a truth at odds with the continuing legacy of her 1972 skin flick “Deep Throat,” which brought triple-X fare out of the shadows and into the homes of a middle-class audience, in many respects birthing the modern day multi-billion dollar industry. It also contrasts with the tone of her first two autobiographies, which promoted the porn business.
Whatever the case, it’s an amazing story: the face of porn’s magnum opus eventually regretting her participation in the flick, wanting nothing to do with the business and spending much of her life advocating against it.
Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman juggle those twin strands engagingly in “Lovelace,” a new biopic starring Amanda Seyfried as the title character, co-opting a bifurcated structure to tell the story.
The first half begins in 1970, finding innocent 21-year-old Linda Boreman living in Davie, Fla., where she chafes under her domineering mother (Sharon Stone). A marriage to the dynamic Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) seems like a way out.
Soon, Chuck gets Linda cast in “Deep Throat” and she is handed her pseudonymous last name. Not long after that she’s being introduced by Hugh Hefner (James Franco) and curtsying on stage to an adoring crowd at the premiere.
But then the film circles back and shows us the depth of Traynor’s monstrosity, revealing a violent maniac who beat Linda regularly, forced her into prostitution, psychologically tormented her and stole whatever meager money she earned from the movie.
From a filmmaking standpoint, this constitutes a tricky balancing act. On one hand, there’s the temptation of succumbing to period glitz, making a movie about perms, bell-bottom jeans and the allure of renegade porn shoots. Alternatively, there’s a thin line between tastefully depicting Linda’s abuse and indulging in sheer domestic miserablism.
The movie sharply evokes the era and exudes a lurid fascination by unpacking the sensational story of this unlikely porn star. The facts and period details feel right, including a soundtrack featuring Gladys Knight, “Spirit in the Sky” and KC and the Sunshine Band.
But “Lovelace” really works because Epstein and Friedman let the performances drive the story.
Seyfried masters the character, blending Linda’s many contradictory strands into the seamless portrait of a victimized woman battling against domineering dark forces. It’s an enigmatic, potentially overwhelming part rendered in human form, a place where girl-next-door allure can exist alongside childlike innocence; where submissiveness need not equal an absence of inner strength.
In Chuck, Sarsgaard creates a screen monster on par with Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet,” a lunatic funneling his deep sense of self-loathing into the torture of his wife. He’s practically the embodiment of evil. But by showing us the sadness underlying his terrible actions, through his unhappy eyes and slouched demeanor, Sarsgaard reveals the damaged person locked inside that shell.
That’s acting for you.