Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Release Date: Aug 09, 13
Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) had a pretty terrible life. The child of repressive suburban parents, she flew the coop at 21 to live with her boyfriend Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), who turned out to be an abusive bastard who forced her to use her sexual talents in pornography. Eventually he transitioned from being her husband to her pimp, until she left both him and the adult film industry, working as an anti-porn and anti-domestic violence advocate. What Lovelace as a film is interested in, to an often graphic extent, is granting the viewer an extended soak in the misery, humiliation, and perversion of a woman done a terrible disservice by virtually everyone in her life. What Lovelace is a lot less interested in is any sort of nuanced approach to her life, any arguments that the porn industry is anything other than a den of broken women and the men who exploit them, or a cohesive narrative that doesn’t make the film feel like it’s playing on fast-forward for an impatient audience.
The best films about any vice or deviant lifestyle tend to have more to say about them than “hey, isn’t this awful?” Contrast Trainspotting, a film that’s careful to show how the ecstasy of hard drug use makes the agony worthwhile for the poor souls in its grasp, with any number of glorified after-school specials that simply rub your nose in how scary drugs are for a few hours. The point of this latter category isn’t to provoke thought or debate, it’s to ensure that audiences will leave hoping to hold their kids a bit tighter and take away anything that could lead them astray. Lovelace would belong to the latter category even if Boogie Nights didn’t already exist, but since it does Lovelace feels quite a bit like the CliffsNotes edition of that latter film throughout. This lends it a glaring tonal inconsistency; Lovelace wants all the resonance of an expose of its era, but stops well short of digging too deeply into anything. Swinging, drug-fueled parties sit right alongside a (mercifully abbreviated) scene of gang rape, doe-eyed innocence and pillow talk alongside inexplicable comic breaks featuring Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale as kingpin smut producers. And none of it really leaves a lasting impression.
The one bit of Lovelace that does, though, is Seyfried. Her Kewpie-doll features lend a devastating (if obvious) underscore to her inevitable fall, and gives the early scenes a sense of oncoming decay they would otherwise lack. Sarsgaard is also effective, even if he can a) play this sort of pervert in his sleep and b) the film barely stops short of erecting a massive neon sign which reads “VILLAIN!” over his head during his first appearance onscreen. Their early scenes make for Lovelace’s most well-handled moments, his snaky charm being misread by her as the kindness of a wounded soul instead of a monster just waiting to latch on. When he performs cunnilingus on her in her parents’ kitchen, she’s asked to say “I’m your girl,” a refrain she’ll end up repeating too often in the future, and with the requests becoming ever more aggressive. Even if the creeping dread borders on exploitative, it still works, as does a late-night chat between the married Lovelace and her mother (Sharon Stone), who preaches the importance of obedience to one’s husband, no matter his conduct.
The rest of the film, particularly in its second half, forgets about these smaller touches. Since Lovelace tries to capture so much more of the porn-theater fantasy era than its scope or budget could really ever allow, there are fleeting glimpses of trade papers and Donahue’s moralizing, but nothing is given time to register. This issue is also doubled by the film’s penchant for making massive narrative jumps; the title card “Six Years Later” appears multiple times during the film’s 93 minutes. And most importantly, for too much of the movie, the woman whose assigned name constitutes the film’s title has to take a passive role to the dialogues happening about and around her, no matter how severe her circumstances become. Lovelace makes for a fascinating story, but until the very last scene, Linda Marciano doesn’t get to tell very much of it herself.