Great performances save ‘Lovelace’ from cautionary tale cliches
Hollywood has always had a fascination with porn. Even back in the days of Star 80, mainstream films have presented tales of starlets drawn in, chewed up and spit out by the corrupt porn industry. Lovelace, written by Andy Bellin and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, brings us a similarly familiar story: an innocent girl from a religious family meets a guy who is nothing but trouble, he corrupts her, she is used and exploited, then she has some kind of redemption by renouncing her old life. The thing is, cliches are cliches for a reason and the story of Linda Lovelace is a real-life version of the cautionary tale we’ve seen in movies since the early days of the motion picture.
Amanda Seyfried stars at Lovelace, arguably the world’s first porn star. She begins as a naive girl who is drawn to the bad boy type, a classic recipe for disaster. That’s when she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Saragaard), the sleazeball who soon becomes her husband. Chuck is the one who introduces Linda to the porn world—back then it was 8mm loops and “stag” films—and soon she’s getting ready for a starring role in the definitive porn movie of the century, Deep Throat. The film is a hit of epic proportions and Lovelace becomes a superstar, getting mentioned by Johnny Carson and even mingling with mainstreamers like Sammy Davis Jr. But all is not what it seems and the film cleverly presents us with two dueling narratives in the form of the glamorous story and the much darker “true” story.
The performances are very impressive all around. Sarsgaard’s soft-spoken-but-dangerous delivery is perfect for the controlling, manipulative Traynor. Seyfried has the wide-eyed innocence needed for the “but I’m a good girl” representation of Lovelace. Even brief performances from Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody and James Franco add depth to a story that could have easily strayed too far into cliche town. The biggest standout is unquestionably Sharon Stone, who is almost unrecognizable as Lovelace’s mother, Dorothy Boreman. Stone plays Dorothy as a cold, strict woman who advises her daughter to stay with her abusive husband because marriage is a promise that will not be broken in her Catholic household. Her chilliness is contrasted by a sweeter Robert Patrick as Lovelace’s father, and the combination results in a great backstory for a future porn star.
The narrative structure of the film is quite interesting, due primarily to the widely varying accounts of what actually went down in Lovelace’s life. She was the first former star to be very outspoken about the evils of the industry, yet an earlier biography painted a much prettier picture of her life and experiences. To this day, some of her co-stars allege that she was a freaky girl who was into the more risque aspects of sex, while she alleged that she only participated in porn because she was forced to at gunpoint by Traynor. The first half of the film presents the side everyone knows, the rapid rise to fame of a porn icon, while the second half presents the “real” version of those same events. They make a point to note that Lovelace passed a publisher-mandated polygraph test confirming the truth of her story, but it’s hard to believe that she was 100% the victim of every man she ever met. It was for that reason that I really appreciated the two narratives, so we could see both sides and make a decision for ourselves, though it certainly weighed pretty heavily in Lovelace’s favor.
In many ways, Lovelace is filled with the typical cliches that Hollywood likes to sew when the plot involves porn, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the film. In fact, it’s more interesting to see how these actors are able to pull off something original while working within the strict formula of this particular type of film. These characters aren’t greedy, corrupt men who are looking to exploit and abuse Lovelace, they’re just people doing their jobs and making porn flicks, and that removes a lot of that preachy element that could have dragged the movie down. While Lovelace is no Boogie Nights, it does give us a new take on a classic story and opens up a new discussion about the infamous Deep Throat star.