This movie about the career of the star of the 1972 porn classic “Deep Throat” is a bifurcated piece, telling its story from two very different perspectives. “Lovelace” first creates a rosy-eyed version of the notorious—and fabulously successful—picture’s making, concentrating on how young Linda Boreman gained fame under her nom de cinema. Then it totally upends that version by dramatizing how she was controlled and brutalized by her husband Chuck Traynor, whom she eventually had to flee. The result is a bouncy rags-to-not-really-riches tale that turns into a gritty feminist parable of exploitation, followed by a redemptive coda as Boreman became an anti-pornography activist in the last years of her life.
Linda (Amanda Seyfried) is introduced as a Florida teen living in a suburban house dominated by her sternly Catholic mother Dorothy (Sharon Stone), with her father John (Robert Patrick), a retired New York cop turned security guard, a supportive but reticent presence. Since Linda’s already had an illegitimate child, Dorothy monitors her daughter’s behavior closely, but even she’s initially won over by Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), the owner of a titty bar he calls a restaurant who meets Linda at a skating rink where she does a go-go routine and can turn on the charm effortlessly when required.
Linda eventually goes off with Traynor, who soon peddles her wares to two buddies in the porn trade, Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) and Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale). Enthusiastic over her unusual talents, they cast her as the star of “Deep Throat” alongside veteran Harry Reems (Adam Brody), getting financial backing from tough guy Anthony Romano (Chris Noth). The picture proves a huge success, a crossover hit and cultural phenomenon that earns Linda the admiration of Hugh Hefner (James Franco), among others—though very little cash.
But Traynor’s anger at being increasingly excluded from decision-making stokes his fury, and he takes it out on his wife while trying to turn her newfound celebrity into a business he can manage, however seedily. His mistreatment escalates to the point that she seeks help from Romano, who’s happy to use his muscle since he has money at stake and little confidence in Traynor. An epilogue takes Boreman into the 1980s, when she wrote a memoir of her exploitation in the industry and became an anti-pornography crusader. And as usual in such docu-dramas, cards at the close tell us what happened to the various principals.
On the surface, the script by screenwriter Andy Bellin, based on Eric Danville’s The Complete Linda Lovelace, follows a familiar trajectory of rise, fall and redemption. And it certainly plays fast and loose with some details of Boreman’s life, presenting her as a far more naïve and innocent g kid than she actually was when embarking on “Deep Throat” and completely ignoring the serious auto crash that had a major impact on her later health. But the approach taken by directors Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who employ the conventions of romantic comedy, necessarily touched by darkness, in the picture’s first half, and then the devices of florid melodrama in the second, makes it more interesting than it would otherwise be. To be sure, the tactic leaves the makers open to the charge of sugarcoating the porn industry, which here is depicted almost lightheartedly; despite what Boreman argued in her later years, the source of her debasement here is not so much the business as her husband’s malevolent nature. But the stylistic choice at least represents a visual point of view that transcends a drab docu-drama style.
Seyfried gives a strong performance in the title role, and though Sarsgaard doesn’t fully capture Traynor’s combination of charm and malevolence, he gives it a good try. An almost unrecognizable Stone is gloomily convincing as Boreman’s rigidly religious mother, whose advice to her daughter when the girl flees her husband for the first time is cruelly old-fashioned, and Patrick plays nicely against type as her mousy husband. Azaria, Cannavale, Brody and Noth have a field day as the gang involved in making “Deep Throat,” and Juno Temple is amusing as one of Lovelace’s older colleagues on the movie. Apart from Franco’s serpentine Hefner, the film includes what amount to cameos by lots of recognizable faces—Wes Bentley as a photographer, Chloe Sevigny as a reporter, Eric Roberts as a polygraph expert. None adds much to the result, though they make it possible to play “name that actor.”
On the technical side, William Arnold’s production design is very good for a low-budget effort: he and costume designer Karyn Wagner manage a nice period feel, captured well by Eric Alan Edwards’ camerawork. A good deal of archival material is inserted in transitional montages, which helps to provide context but can come across as intrusive at times. Stephen Trask’s score adds some effective touches.
What “Lovelace” leaves out of its subject’s life is arguably more revealing than what it includes. But the spin it gives to the story makes for an intriguingly stylish, if incomplete, biography/cautionary tale.