For me, biopics tend to be a no-win situation. If too many liberties are taken with a subject’s life story, then it defeats the purpose of what drew filmmakers to it in the first place; if they stick too closely to retelling everything, then you might as well be reading a Wikipedia page. That’s to say nothing of the clichés such movies tend to fall victim to (no matter who they’re about), all of which results in one of the genres I look forward to the least. Lovelace, in particular, didn’t trip my initial trigger, having seen the superior documentary Inside Deep Throat already do an enthralling job of covering much of the same ground. Indeed, this docudrama had no keen observations or compelling statements with which to part, save for the earth-shattering revelation that physical and psychological abuse are bad.
Once upon a time, Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) was just another sweet-faced twentysomething. Stuck living at home with the folks, it was easy for Linda to fall under the spell of Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a wannabe entrepreneur who could talk his way into getting anything he wanted…or else. That he did, as his courting of Linda swiftly resulted in a marriage, after which she bore witness to Chuck’s true, manipulative colors. Too late to back out safely, Linda could only be forced by her husband to literally prostitute herself to secure a number of business dealings, eventually leading up to the one little movie that made her a household name. Under the surname “Lovelace,” Linda would go on to headline Deep Throat, a porno flick whose success would both propel her to stardom and inspire her to find the courage to leave Chuck’s abusive grasp for good.
Lovelace comes from the sort of pedigree that makes the mess it turns into a touch shameful to behold. It was directed by documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who between them created such stirring nonfiction chronicles like The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet. They’ve brought compelling tales of real life persecution to the screen before, so why does Lovelace come across so flat and ineffective? For one, it’s just that slow-going on the outset, but once we start sifting through the meat of the story, Epstein and Friedman’s attempts to shake up the traditional biopic structure hinder the film more than they invigorate it. At about the halfway point, wherein Deep Throat‘s infamy has since pierced the mainstream, Lovelace flashes forward six years to show Linda undergoing a polygraph test at a book publisher’s behest…after which it immediately goes back to the beginning of her relationship with Chuck. The intention is to pull back the curtain and show how controlling Chuck was behind nearly every aspect of Linda’s life, but that’s the thing; we know he’s a dominating prick from the get-go. All Epstein and Friedman do is just rearrange the specifics of what he did, which, had they been presented the first time around, would have felt less confusing and time-consuming (to say nothing of how the lie detector subplot feels like a framing device jammed in too late in the game).
If I didn’t already know the filmmakers were Academy Award winners (twice so, in Epstein’s case), I’d swear that Lovelace was made by first-timers who had their chance at a juicy story with an amazing cast and whizzed it down their legs. It’s a movie whose faults lie in the writing and directing, not in the performances, even as shortchanged as they may feel. Seyfried plays innocent well, Sarsgaard cranks up the Skeeze-o-Meter to 11, and they’re backed up by a multitude of familiar faces who pitch in what amount to extended cameos. I didn’t mind folks like Sharon Stone, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, and James Franco (as none other than Hugh Hefner) popping up so briefly, which made sure the focus stayed on Linda’s experiences alone. But it’s how the film covers her life and times that’s such a disappointment, as it quickly becomes the same routine of sadsploitation that all too many dramas of this sort are content to rehash. The real Linda overcame her troubles and sought to use her story to inspire other girls to avoid similar fates, but this movie has none of that passion or drive, instead showing us a poor woman get beaten up for an hour and a half until the script decides to spare her with ten minutes left to go.
The quality of the acting made Lovelace undoubtedly easier to sit through, but by the end, it didn’t make the watch worth it as a whole. I really can’t sing the praises of Inside Deep Throat enough, for it was an utterly fascinating and overlooked doco that explored the same topic from a more substantial angle than “a lot of bad stuff happened to the star.” Kudos to the filmmakers for creating a respectful study of its subject without the need for titillation, but Lovelace seems like the Cliffs Notes version of a far more harrowing tale to be told.