I do not understand why this movie was made.
I can fully comprehend the impulse to produce a biopic about Linda Lovelace, as she is an undeniably fascinating subject, but at no point during Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Lovelace did I have any grasp whatsoever on any meaningful reason for why this specific film exists. It is utterly and absolutely empty, devoid of any thoughtful or insightful angle on the story it tells and entirely uninterested in any of the deeper social, ethical, political, and, of course, sexual implications therein. Concerned instead with telling its story in the most manipulative, exploitative way possible, Lovelace is one of the fluffiest, least substantive biopics I have ever seen. The film does not merely have an identity crisis – it has no identity to speak of, whatsoever, and nothing to offer viewers drawn in by the inherently interesting nature of the subject.
The film traces the arc of Linda Boreman’s short-lived pornographic career, from her marriage to abusive manager Chuck Traynor in the early 1970s and production of the infamous mainstream porn sensation Deep Throat (for which she adopted the pseudonym ‘Lovelace’) to her eventual disillusionment with porn and ‘activism’ against the industry (‘activism’ being in quotes because the film calls her an activist without ever once showing an actual act of activism). The film immediately seems shallow and superficial in the extreme, employing the Rankin/Bass Santa Claus is Coming to Town form of storytelling in which each big moment/element of Linda’s life is explained in the most rudimentary, direct, oversimplified way possible. Nothing is ever built gradually or organically, with the viewer instead treated to a long procession of scenes where Linda’s identity-of-the-moment is shouted in loud, broad strokes: First she’s a prude! Then she likes sex! Then she can deep throat! Then she doesn’t want to!
What the film does not appear to be, as of yet, is resolutely awful. It is all light and fluffy and utterly substance-free, aggressively mediocre at all times, but when the film chooses to kick itself into a theoretically ‘deeper’ gear, it winds up shooting itself in the foot with one of the most mind-bogglingly asinine structures I have seen in a long while.
Lovelace is split in two, it turns out, with the first half depicting the happy-go-lucky, sunshine and roses version of Boreman’s story – where porn is a magical path to happiness and fulfillment – before an abrupt cut to black sees Linda giving testimony against Traynor and the Deep Throat experience in the near future. Now, for the rest of the film, we are treated to all the dark moments of abuse and sadism existing in between what we previously saw, the gaps in what was shown before. This second half is still light, fluffy, and utterly substance-free, but the film is also now infuriating to watch, because it has become apparent the filmmakers were playing a fairly disgusting game with the audience the entire time, swapping out actual insight, intelligence, or thematic exploration with a shallow re-ordering of significant events.
I can somewhat understand what Lovelace is going for, as the structure mirrors how the contemporary public perceives Linda – her earliest, sanitized biographies are what we see first, while the later biographies in which she came out with stories of abuse and coercion form the film’s second half – but recreating exactly what the entire world already knows and experienced about this woman seems like a massively worthless exercise in redundancy. The point of making a biopic like this, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, is to attempt to paint as complete a portrait as possible of the subject, one that is compelling precisely because it is made with a historical, analytical eye. Not so in Lovelace. The structure robs Linda of any and all proactivity or agency; because the story is fragmented into non-abusive/abusive chunks, things only ever happen to Boreman, without her ever being able to actually instigate anything until the very, very end.
The patch-work narrative also has the unfortunate side-effect of making Linda look weak and stupid – as she is our point-of-view character, the film makes it seem as if she just suddenly woke up one morning and realized she had been abused, rather than having any feelings on her experiences while living them – which clashes with what I think is the film’s overall stance on her life and character. Not that it is easy to tell exactly what opinion Epstein, Friedman, or writer Andy Bellin have on Boreman, as the film refuses to ever take a firm stance on anything, but the general tone, atmosphere, and interminably long succession of concluding information text all seem to paint Linda as a brave, heroic feminist icon. Whether or not that is a reading of Boreman’s life that can be agreed with or supported – more on that in a minute – one simply cannot make such claims while utilizing a dramatic structure that constantly delegitimizes the presented interpretation.
Even if the film could coherently present an argument about Boreman’s life and historical significance, it would be an incredibly tin-eared and incomplete one, as Lovelace ignores real-world facts whenever they are inconvenient to the shallow, superficial character arc being clumsily painted. The film makes no mention of Lovelace’s involvement in Deep Throat 2 or other, earlier pornographic endeavors with Traynor – to the point where it is concretely stated she bowed out of the sequel – and ignores entirely that Linda also accused her second husband, presented here as her perfect soul-mate, of physical abuse. And viewers can form their own opinions on whether or not Linda Boreman could ever truly be interpreted to be a feminist icon (certainly, many feminists over the years have had problems with her) – either way, the portrait the film paints is incomplete at best, imaginary and unsubstantiated at worst.
The lack of meaningful historical insight does not stop there. The film presents absolutely nothing, not even a hint of a discussion, about why Deep Throat became such a massive success and cultural phenomenon, which would seem to me to be a fairly critical part of Boreman’s life story. It is simply taken for granted Deep Throat will be a hit, with all the characters having the exact same 20/20 hindsight as the people making the movie.
And speaking of those characters, every one of them is written and interpreted just as shallowly as Linda. Sometimes more so. Chuck Traynor and the Deep Throat producers and everybody else may be completely one-dimensional, but they cannot hold a candle to the apocalyptic disaster of characterization that is Linda’s mother, Dorothy. There is caricature, then there’s outright cartoon, then there’s Cinderella’s evil stepmother from the Disney movie, then there’s Linda’s wicked Christian mother in Lovelace. Holy hell. Could this character be any more of a moustache-twirling, overbearing, overdramatized, undercooked stereotypical persecuting monster? I don’t blame Sharon Stone for the material she is given to play, but this will certainly go down as one of the low points in her career, as every second Linda’s mother is on screen is downright excruciating to watch, an unpleasant amalgam of everything that is wrong with this thoroughly unpleasant movie.
Outside of Stone, the performances across the board are solid, even if each and every one is hampered by terrible writing. As Linda, Amanda Seyfried gives what is possibly her best performance to date. Boreman may be little more than a sketch of a sketch as written, but Seyfried manages to make a real three-dimensional human personality shine through, one that is believably naïve and strong-willed at the same time, and it is almost entirely thanks to her work that the film is, for the first half at least, watchable. As Traynor, Peter Saarsgard is probably doing work on par with Seyfried’s, but it is hard to tell as he has, among the leads, been given the shortest straw. The script ensures that Traynor is essentially a different part from scene to scene, depending on what the story needs at any given moment, and while that is an untenable position to be in as an actor, Saargard’s work does not cause any pain.
Robert Patrick probably does the best work in the entire movie as Linda’s confused but loving father, and he has one note in particular around the film’s middle, wherein he expresses the complex mixture of love and confusion he feels towards his daughter and her life’s choices, that is the only nuanced, believably human moment in the entire feature. Otherwise, there are many, many great actors on display being recklessly underserved, each coming in for one or two scenes without getting anything of substance to play. James Franco’s mere presence as Hugh Hefner earns the biggest laugh of the movie, but it is a laugh rooted completely in conception and casting, not in what the filmmakers actually do with the performer or character.
And that more or less summarizes the entire film as a whole. The idea of doing a Linda Lovelace biopic is an enticing one. Amanda Seyfried makes for great casting. And that is where any and all inspiration or effort ends, because Lovelace is as empty and immaterial as a biopic can be. One can learn more about Linda Boreman from any number of other sources, to the point where watching the actual Deep Throat movie would undoubtedly be more educational, and watching paint dry on a wall would be more entertaining.
Lovelace is one of the fluffiest, least substantive biopics I have ever seen, and I am positively baffled the film made it through the pitch, scripting, production, and post-production phases without anyone ever once bothering to ask “for what exact purpose are we making this movie?”