Let’s face it, the world wasn’t exactly missing a biopic about Linda Lovelace, the former actress who made her immortality in 1972 by becoming the star of “Deep Throat” the most profitable adult film in the history of the medium. Digging around in the trash of a celebrity has a certain level of titillation, but it’s no more necessary than digging around in the sex life of Liberace (at least his story has music to fall back on). But how far have we come? Once, long ago, Hollywood made biopics about monarchs and presidents, people who accomplished things and changed the world. Now, rather than pages out of history books, we get pages out of the tabloids. You’ve gone the wrong way, baby!
That’s exactly how “Lovelace” feels. This is not the portrait of a life, but a dreary soap opera about an abused woman with a scummy husband who forced her (at gunpoint, we’re told) into a life of pornography and prostitution. The problem is that this movie is all tragedy and no substance, giving us a story that might have been better suited for a documentary, which is curious because the movie comes from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman who have made great documentaries like The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet. Why didn’t they just make a documentary? This is drama played at the level of a bad Lifetime Original Movie.
Lovelace – henceforth referred to by her given name, Linda Boreman – is played in a stiff performance by Amanda Seyfriend, an actress of breathtaking beauty who has yet to find a role that proves that she is more than just photogenic. She plays Boreman as a wounded saint, a Little Girl Lost who is pushed and bullied and manipulated by her husband so much and so often that we never feel that there was another note to her personality or their relationship. Her performance is made up of wide-eyed petrified looks wrapped up in period clothes.
The movie hits the bulletpoints of Boreman’s life without examining any of them. She was born Linda Boreman in Brooklyn, New York in 1949 under domineering parents, and then uprooted to Florida where she had a baby by age 19. In the aftermath of giving up her child, she met Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), who initially seemed like a nice guy, but turned out to be a slimeball who (she said) got her involved in the porn world against her will. He even sold her into prostitution to get himself out of debt. Sarsgaard is a good actor whose range here moves from creepy nice guy to desperate pervert with an unnerving slow burn.
Most of the movie follows Boreman’s volatile relationship with Traynor. The film’s first half shows a loving relationship that builds between him and Boreman, but the second half rewinds the clock and tells her side of the story in flashback, this time containing the more realistic bits of his control over her every move. You can’t help but feel pity for Boreman, but knowing the rest of her story, when she renounced the industry, divorce, remarried and had a child, you can’t help but feel that there was more to her story than just sex and being slapped around. Her life away from Traynor, and her famous interview with Phil Donahue, are handled in a few brief scenes, but you get the feeling that this is where the film’s second act should have begun. The film wants us to understand the circumstances that took Boreman from porn star to anti-porn feminist but it wallows in the glow of her early profession with lots of soft light and nudity. Epstein and Friedman wallow in the decadence of a lifestyle they are trying to renounce.
The problem with telling the story of Linda Lovelace is that there really isn’t much to tell. If “Deep Throat” has been a flop, no one would care or even remember her. The only way to tell this story would be to portray the 70s porn chic world that surrounded her as Paul Thomas Anderson did with “Boogie Nights,” which showed the glamour and the superficial hedonism of an era in which the morals of America were slipping so fast that porn was threatening to become mainstream. The story of the film’s impact was also told much better in the 2005 documentary “Inside Deep Throat,” which wasn’t a great movie but offers more insight into that world than is portrayed here. What we get in “Lovelace” is an exploitative portrait of misery and despair that ends with Linda becoming a feminist. Yet, that transformation comes as a momentary revelation. Screenwriter Andy Bellin misses the journey that got her there. Why do we care? What is the journey? What is the point? Who was this woman?