Lovelace

They only want to see you do one thing
★★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Starring: 
Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Chris Noth
The Setup: 
Bio of porn star Linda Lovelace that has a concept. That is unsuccessful.
Discussion: 

I wanted to see this, even though it got mediocre reviews, because I love the 70s, 70s sleaze, it has a good cast, and I wanted to see how Amanda Seyfried would do with a juicy role. When you consider that I first saw her in Mamma Mia, and spent the entire time wanting to drop a hot skillet on her face, I think that makes me pretty open to actor's reinventions. And she showed some welcome depth in Boogie Woogie. Also, Peter Sarsgaard, who is good at menacing sleaze, and a cast of other luminaries, including Sharon Stone, who does a lovely job in her small role. Be warned, however, that Chloe Sevigny's role amounts to literally--and I am not misusing the word "literally"--one short shot.

So, this movie has a concept, and it is that concept that ultimately undoes it. The concept is that we tell the story in a not-so-awful version, then we stop halfway through and go through key moments again, in a more-awful version, then a brief coda. We'll come back to this at the end.

We open hearing Gladys Knight's "I've Got To Use My Imagination," which is a good start for any film. Then we have a 60-second overview that Deep Throat was the most popular porn movie until then, went mainstream, and made Lovelace a sensation, ending with a bunch of interview questions, the final one being "Who is the real Linda Lovelace?"

We now flash back to 1970, with Linda and her friend sunbathing, and we see that Linda doesn't want to undo the string in back of her bikini. She does, then her prudish mother comes out and says "What is this, a nudist colony?" She goes to a roller rink and she and her friend get up and dance, and throughout we can see that Linda is a bit nervous about showing her body and essentially a good girl. They meet Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor outside, and he says they should be strippers, they coud make a lot of money. He offers a joint that Linda won't take. They meet him again another night, and she confides that she got pregnant and had a baby as a teen. He says he'll come to dinner and charm her parents, and if he does, she'll have to sleep with him. He does indeed charm the parents, and eats her out on her parent's counter, with them in the other room. They then go to a hotel and have sex. You'll notice a shot of a song being started on a reel-to-reel, then, in the next shot, as the song plays, we see an empty reel-to-reel sitting on the dresser. Maybe they had two? He takes a picture of them in bed. She gets home late and Mom slaps her. She moves out and in with Chuck the next day. They marry.

Six months later, she has to bail him out of jail. He says in order to make money, she'll have to prostitute herself. He takes her to a porn producer in New York, and they find her too nice and "real" to be a porn star, until Chuck shows them a home movie of her deep-throating him, which they have never seen before. Next thing you know, they're back in California, with a long set-up to making the film. We meet this movie's Harry Reems, who, sadly, does not match the reality of the real Harry Reems. Chris Noth shows up as the financier of the film, and he sees right away that Chuck is too possessive of Linda, and that's going to be a liability for them. I didn't quite get the line, but I think Noth says "Your girl is going to be a star, and you--you own the product."

Anyway, the movie comes out, is a sensation, climbs up the box office, becomes a cultural phenomenon, and we see a shot of Mom turning off the TV when Johnny Carson uses Lovelace as a punchline. It culminates in a special screening where we meet James Franco as Hugh Hefner, who takes Linda up to a balcony to watch the film with him alone, and tells her that she could be a serious actress, which is something she's said she wants. Meanwhile, she is getting pulled further away from Chuck, who is growing more bitter and angry. Part one ends with her receiving an ovation from the Playboy party's crowd.

SPOILERS > > >
Now! Six years later, she is taking a polygraph test required by her publisher before they'll publish her tell-all book, "Ordeal." We go back to the first time she and Chuck has sex, and see that he essentially strangled her in order to get off. We see more detail on him prostituting her, and that she is not at all happy about it. He hits her. She eventually shows up at her Mom's house in the wee hours, but Mom is all about standing by your husband, and says "You took a serious vow." When she tells Mom that he hit her, Mom asks what she did to deserve it. She ends up back with Chuck, who is now routinely threatening her with a gun. We now learn that the producers of the film want nothing to do with him, and he refuses to let her do another movie (that he won't profit from), so he's making Linda Lovelace dildos and a blow-up doll.

At a certain point Linda turns to Chuck and says she's not making another porn film, ever. He responds by taking her to be gang-raped at gunpoint by a bunch of yahoos who want to bang Linda Lovelace. She later escapes to Noth for help, and but all he wants is for her to do more films. "The world wants to see you," he says, "but they only want to see you do one thing." Chuck finds her with Noth--turns out he owes Noth 25 thousand--and he gets whipped with a belt by Noth's henchmen, and that seems to be about it for him, because next:

Six years later! She lives in Long Island and has a doughy mustachoied husband who, just on the surface, seems a lot more stable and supportive. She also has a young son. Her book is being published, and she appears on Donahue, pasted in to the archival footage [really obvious in a two-shot... I think modern technology would allow you to match video fuzziness, guys. The film is also filled with several fake-looking theater marquees]. We have several shots of Mom at home watching her on Donahue and just feeling so, so ashamed that she wasn't supportive. The movie ends with her being welcomed back into her parent's home, receiving a hug from Mom.
< < < SPOILERS END

Okay, so here's my theory on why they took this approach to this film which you can trust with absolute authority because, like, hello, okay? When she was a star, Lovelace was so naturally perky and delightful, it seems like she was really enjoying what she was doing, at least publicly. And, as the movie hints at [but misses the opportunity to make clear] the prevailing attitude was that most women are good and tolerate sex, and then there are sluts who are delighted to get as much cock as possible. So it was a bit of a shock when the book came out, because it took some convincing to get the public to believe her--as evidenced by her publisher forcing her to take a polygraph--and I think the bifurcated structure of the film is an attempt to replicate the way the story unfolded in the public imagination.

Thing is--that was forty years ago. And I don't think that it has much relevance for most viewers today. There's also a whole thread about what is her real name, which just strikes me as shallow and banal. The other thing is that--the two versions don't really seem all that different. I don't need to see it happen to know that Linda didn't like being prostituted. We see a bruise on her in part one, and we know it must have come from Chuck, so I don't necessarily need to see him do it. And if they hadn't wasted so much time of the movie on this useless concept, they would have had the available time to fill in some of the more vague points of the film, and fill in the social scene better. For example, much as I sympathized with Linda, when she suddenly says she'll never do another porn film, it's hard to really understand why. She seemed to enjoy the friends she made, people other than Chuck, and their support. And we would have had a lot more time to understand the sexism of the time, the impact of the film on society [for example, how did Linda feel about essentially igniting the porn industry, which had previously been mostly lame stag films, damning many other women to lives like hers?], and stuff like that, but no, what the filmmakers think is interesting is whether that's her real name or not.

By the way, the documentary Inside Deep Throat is an excellent recounting of the film and its social impact.

Maybe they just didn't know they were going to pull such a fierce performance out of Seyfried? Because she delivers, and she is great. I am all about her now--and that took some doing after the egregious insult of Mamma Mia. Everyone is quite good, but the other one who re-impressed me, and made me re-mourn that she never got the roles she deserved, was Sharon Stone. She doesn't have a lot of lines, but she does more with an expression than most other actresses are capable of, and the woman just has a sense of intelligence burning off of her. And my admiration went into the stratosphere during that final hug, and we see her skin wrinkle up, just like a woman her age! Sharon, hats off to you!

Okay, that's about it. It won't kill you to watch it, and it has great performances, but after a while you end up paying more attention ot the film you wish it was than the one it is.

Should you watch it: 

Up to you, it's not awful.