Friday, August 9, 2013


The Making And Unmaking Of A Sudden, Reluctant Star

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace in "Lovelace", directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
TWC Radius

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, August 9, 2013

"Lovelace", directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, presents a resolute heroine in the shape of Linda Lovelace, whose stardom as America's most notorious porn actress in the 1970s was fleeting, before Ms. Lovelace, who suffered extreme abuse from men on some film sets and from her husband, exited stage left and became an anti-porn advocate. 

Written by Andy Bellin "Lovelace" matter-of-factly lays out the path of Ms. Lovelace, played by Amanda Seyfried.  "Lovelace" is an authentic and jarring journey often punctuated with violence and exploitation by Chuck Traynor (a chilling Peter Sarsgaard), Ms. Lovelace's husband.  Mr. Traynor, who as a character lurks ominously around almost every corner of "Lovelace", is played so well by Mr. Sarsgaard that when we see the pitiful and vulnerable sides of him we may recoil. 

For all the intensity, violence and ruggedness Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman don't demonize.  They chronicle circumstances and predicaments.  Without much editorializing "Lovelace" charts the economic and physical control of women by men, and here Ms. Lovelace is commoditized twice: as a "little girl" forbidden access to money from her work and forbidden refusal to and by men to entrance of her body.

Ms. Lovelace was certainly complicated (aren't we all?) and "Lovelace" frames her mostly in that way.  At times however, you feel there's a lack of depth in the presentation of Linda Lovelace as a character for big screen treatment.  Is that because of the trade she dabbled in?  I doubt it.  I suspect, more pointedly, it is due to the absence of a female writer and director.  Mary Harron, Jane Campion, Nicole Holofcener, Barbara Kopple, Callie Khouri or Andrea Arnold would very likely have presented a deeper, more dimensional and empowering treatment of Ms. Lovelace.  The men who take this project on try though, and, if nothing else, get the overall atmosphere right.

"Lovelace" captures its subject in her 20s and 30s and stardom with a cynical, unromantic lens.  In L.A.'s seedy porn industry stardom and staying power (pun intended) are measured in body parts and money shots.  Ms. Lovelace's special "talents", chronicled in the infamous X-rated success "Deep Throat", are worshipped by several shady bottom-line male producers and envied by Mr. Traynor, who controls every part of Linda's life in the industry and out of it.  Ms. Lovelace, who was killed in a car accident in 2002, is a caged bird, if you will, whose wings get ripped off but eventually gets to sing.  The song she sings is about her emergence and true blossoming if not total triumph over the experiences that almost destroyed her during very difficult times.

Despite its grim tones "Lovelace" takes a breath away from the harshest glare and horrific rape to bask in the fame Ms. Lovelace enjoyed, though all-too brief, specifically at movie premieres.  She falls in with Hugh Hefner (a smug James Franco) at the premiere of "Deep Throat", but her appearance before the audience, and by extension us, at least in the way it is shot, looks and feels sad and hollow.  And of course, that's the point.  The filmmakers capture the raw, unvarnished belly of a male-dominated, sexist enterprise, and the fallacy of self-congratulation and celebrity surrounding it.  These days, porn, with the advent of the Internet, sometimes glosses up and glosses over the very same brutal types of exploitation and abuse for women (and some men.)

As you'd expect, there's sex in "Lovelace" but it's the mechanical, unloving kind.  Call it business sex.  Almost as painful as the relentless abuse is the estrangement and tension Ms. Lovelace experiences with her strict disciplinarian mother (an unrecognizable Sharon Stone.)  Ms. Stone as a casting choice is apropos in a sense, considering that 20-plus years ago her own stardom amplified after a fleeting naked crotch shot in "Basic Instinct", a much-contested incident still defended by "Instinct" director Paul Verhoeven. 

Ms. Seyfried does nicely as a doe-eyed Ms. Lovelace and fine tunes her performance as the one-time porn star grows into her own as an advocate for women and anti-pornography.  Playing a real-life person Ms. Seyfried inhabits a woman never quite comfortable with the spotlight.  It's worth noting that Robert Patrick hits a sincere note, palpable as Ms. Lovelace's loving father, the only man Ms. Lovelace is shown to be completely comfortable with.  Along the way Ms. Lovelace taps into the truism that there's far more to her than just "skin" and surface beauty.

"Lovelace" broods and does so in a procedural manner.  There's a compactness and bluntness about the film's pace and events that evokes a television movie set in the Seventies -- presumably the desired effect.  The film rides on the performances of Chris Noth as a worried investor in Lovelace's films, and Mr. Sarsgaard, who with Bobby Cannavale can currently be seen in "Blue Jasmine"

One of the most touching and sad scenes in "Lovelace" is in a revelation: an episode of beauty for the title star -- a photo shoot culminating in Ms. Lovelace declaring, "you made me beautiful."  It's one of the lone jewels in an unpleasant experience, one worthy of a post-viewing shower.

Also with: Juno Temple, Adam Brody, Wes Bentley, Debi Mazar, Hank Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, Eric Roberts, Cory Hardrict.

"Lovelace" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and some domestic violence.  The film's running time is one hour and 38 minutes. 

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