For many people, the story of Linda Lovelace, one of the world's first marquee-name porn stars, has remained a subject of great interest. First, there was the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, which is a fascinating portrait of the time period, packed with interviews from most of the people involved. Two stage plays -- one a musical -- followed, with the non-musical currently being pitched as a feature. Finally, in 2011, two biopics went head-to-head in the search for backing. Inferno landed troubled star Lindsay Lohan, which nabbed the project some instant notoriety, but Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried, is the one of the two that made it through production, with Lohan dropping out of Inferno before the project stalled.
The thing is, Linda Lovelace's actual life isn't really as interesting as the idea of being Linda Lovelace, forcing co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who previously made Allan Ginsberg's famous poem into a biopic, to fall back on biopic cliches to string some sort of dramatic arc together. Along with screenwriter Andy Bellin, they take an interesting moment in pop culture and suck all of the energy out of it by playing it as a standard bad childhood / abusive husband story, piling on reasons for the viewer to feel sympathy for Linda.
In her book Ordeal, Lovelace revealed that she was an unwilling participant in her adult filmmaking career. She wrote that Chuck Traynor, her then-husband, forced her to work, sometimes at gunpoint. She took and passed a polygraph test as part of the book's promotional campaign, but nearly everyone else involved with the film said her story was packed with lies and exaggeration. Instead of embracing this inconsistency as part of the Lovelace legend, Epstein and Friedman unquestionably accept Linda's version of events, eager to paint her as a survivor who endured two unhappy homes before she was 30. For the film's first hour, nearly every line of dialogue and story beat is carefully engineered to milk the maximum amount of sympathy (or maybe pity) from her naive, childlike innocence. Linda's dreams of moving onto real movies and her romance with Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) make up a bland, shallow rise-and-fall arc that'd be prime inoffensive TV-movie-of-the-week material if it weren't about pornography.
The film's one moment of intrigue comes at the tail end of that section, when the story jumps out of Lovelace's porn glory days, to the lie detector test. Epstein and Friedman then cut back into scenes of Lovelace and Traynor's relationship the viewer has already seen, in order to reveal the domestic abuse, coercion, prostitution, rape, and suffering Linda faced while under Chuck's watchful, greedy eyes. It'd be a great place to lay in some of the questions about Linda's story (the movie pretends that she got her start with Deep Throat when she had a number of films under her belt already, including one featuring beastiality), but all it amounts to is a series of "gotcha" moments that play like the montage in a film with a twist ending showing the viewer all the clues they might've missed, except this one occurs with 40 minutes to go. It's doubtful viewers will be shocked to learn that the thumping the Deep Throat team hear on the wall of the hotel room wasn't actually Linda and Chuck having passionate sex, but Chuck beating her for talking back, but the co-directors sure seem to think it is. They also inadvisably drop Seyfried into a vintage episode of "Donahue" digitally, which looks awful.
The main draw for casual viewers will probably be the ensemble cast, which also includes Sharon Stone, Hank Azaria, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Juno Temple, Adam Brody, Debi Mazar, Chloe Sevigny, Robert Patrick, Wes Bentley, Eric Roberts, and James Franco. Sadly, some of these people (Roberts and Sevigny) are only on screen for a couple of moments, in roles that could've been played by extras, and nobody seems particularly engaged with the material. Sarsgaard arguably gets the most to to work with, as Chuck slides into drug addiction, but the film's repetitive scenes of him intimidating Linda into one awful thing or another blend together. Seyfried, meanwhile, is good only if the viewer agrees with what the filmmakers endeavor to do: turn a woman with a shady, indeterminate past into a squeaky clean crusader for justice.
TWC offers Lovelace on DVD with the simple poster artwork of Seyfried as the actress in front of a plain white background. Considering how much iconography one can find in both pornography and the 1970s, this is a little underwhelming. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly DVD case with no insert.
The Video and Audio
Shot on 16mm to help give the film an authentic period feel, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite pleasing to the eye. 16mm's grainier, less detailed imagery is well-suited to DVD, and the disc has no trouble with the film's vivid palette. I did not notice any distracting banding, artifacting, or contrast issues.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is equally strong, constantly cueing up vibrant, lively period tunes, and accurately conveying both the glamorous pool party and premiere moments alongside the banality of cold warehouses and stuffy hotel rooms. An early scene in a roller disco also gets a little bass into the picture. Dialogue is crisp and well-balanced throughout. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Only one extra is included, a fairly perfunctory behind-the-scenes featurette titled "Behind Lovelace"(13:57). Heavy on clips and short on substance, this is totally skippable. Trailers for Cutie and the Boxer and 20 Feet From Stardom are also included.
Lovelace is unwilling to explore the disputed nature of its subject's infamous career in the porno industry, insistently retreating to the safety of biopic cliche. The disc looks nice, but the lack of extras is similarly unenlightening. Those with no squeamishness about seeing the scene that gives Deep Throat its title would be better off tracking down Inside Deep Throat for a more nuanced look at not just Lovelace and her famous film, but the cultural moment that made it happen. Skip it.
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