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Film Reviews Lovelace: Settling for only part of the Deep Throat star's story

This film publicity image released by RADIUS-TWC shows Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace in "Lovelace."

Dale Robinette/AP

0.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Deep Throat
Written by
Andy Bellin
Directed by
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Starring
Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard
Classification
18A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2013

The heroine of the sloppy showbiz biopic Lovelace is introduced sunbathing in her suburban Florida backyard with her best friend: The joke is that Linda (Amanda Seyfried) is shyer than her pal about loosening her bikini straps and letting it all hang out. From shyly uptight to iconically wide-open, that was the arc travelled by Lovelace (born Linda Susan Boreman in Yonkers, New York) in the early 1970s, as she became the most famous pornographic performer in the world on the strength of a single film: 1972's Deep Throat.

In her 1980 autobiography Ordeal, Lovelace claimed that she was only ever paid $1,250 dollars for her work in Deep Throat, and also that her husband, Chuck Traynor, bilked her out of further earnings and abused her physically and psychologically until their divorce in the mid-seventies. That Lovelace focuses almost exclusively on Lovelace's increasingly fraught relationship with Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) is understandable, but by omitting certain key details of their subject's life before and after this bleak period, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman settle for a titillating, exploitative snapshot instead of a fully rounded portrait.

For instance, the film never touches on Lovelace's forays into super-8 pornography, glossing over some extremely sordid particulars to arrive at the production of Deep Throat – portrayed here as mostly good clean fun behind the camera as well as in front of it (Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale turn up as cute and cuddly pornographers). Like Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997), Lovelace betrays sentimentality about the good old days of shooting analog skin flicks (shot with 35 mm cameras!) before hucksters and opportunists tore it all down. The fly in the ointment here is Traynor, who skulks around the set in a jealous fury about his wife performing fellatio onscreen. Meanwhile, screenwriter Andy Bellin's attempts to juxtapose Lovelace's real-life feelings with those of her Deep Throat persona – a gentle wallflower who just needed a little nurturing to bloom into a Venus Fly Trap – are facile at best.

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The structural gimmick of Lovelace is that after showing us Lovelace in all of her cultural-warrior glory – posing for magazine covers and cavorting with Hugh Hefner (James Franco) – it doubles back to replay the making of Deep Throat in a much darker light. But the scenes of Traynor threatening and battering his wife feel just as phony and unconvincing as the sunnier stuff that preceded them, partly because Sarsgaard – usually a fine and subtle actor – flies so over the top in his depiction of a creepy Svengali. And Seyfried unfortunately doesn't get to do much more than frolic in the first half and cower in the second (both of which, it should be said, she does with aplomb). It might have been compelling to see the actress portray Lovelace's descent into drug abuse or her contentious career as an anti-porn activist, but it seems the ambivalence of that period – which saw Lovelace publicly repudiate her past stardom and then charge her celebrity-feminist supporters with their own form of exploitation – would exceed this disappointingly slight film's very slender parameters.

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