Appellate Judge Tom Becker is deeper than he looks.
X marks the legend.
"How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?"
That might have been the first-ever tagline for a porn movie.
The movie, of course, was Deep Throat, which redefined porn movies, and its star, Linda Lovelace, was featured on the poster. There are three shots of Linda, a succession of poses that make it look like she's opening up light a flower to the sun. They're not especially provocative poses, and seem quite innocent and almost childlike without the context of the film.
Deep Throat and Linda Lovelace have been discussed and dissected in articles, books, and all over the Web. DVD Verdict has reviewed an acclaimed documentary about the film (Inside Deep Throat) and a not-so-acclaimed, R-rated travesty starring Lovelace (Linda Lovelace for President).
Through the years, there's been much talk of a film biography of Lovelace, who some years after Deep Throat wrote an autobiography, Ordeal, detailing her abuse at the hands of her husband and the industry that had made her famous. Now, we get Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried as the unfortunate woman who found herself a reluctant focal point in the sexual revolution.
Facts of the Case
Young, naive Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried, Letters to Juliet) meets edgy Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard, Knight and Day) at a club. She finds him mesmerizing, and she's soon moving out of her repressive parents' home and in with this attentive, but controlling, man.
But life with Chuck is far from idyllic. Soon, he's having legal troubles and money troubles. He convinces Linda to get involved in the sex industry. She auditions for a role in porn film by reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for director Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria, Tuesdays With Morrie). Although she's not what he's looking for—porn actresses, he explains, are supposed to be large-bosomed blondes—he watches a home movie of Linda displaying an unusual talent. He casts the frizzy-haired, slim-hipped girl in his opus, a porno called Deep Throat.
Deep Throat becomes a huge hit, historic, actually, and Linda—rechristened Linda Lovelace—is a star, hobnobbing with celebrities and a special guest at the Playboy Mansion of Hugh Hefner. Since virtually all the profits from the insanely profitable porn film went to organized crime, she's not a wealthy celebrity, but her name is known enough that people like Johnny Carson and Bob Hope use it as punchlines.
But Linda's not really the free-spirited sex goddess that everyone thinks she is; in fact, nothing about Linda and her relationship with Chuck is as it seems.
Lovelace could have been a lot of things—enlightening; provocative; disturbing; informative. Instead, it's just perplexing. If there wasn't so much information available about Lovelace—including something like four autobiographies—and her movie, the story offered up here might be an acceptable cautionary tale, a hybrid of late-night Cinemax and a Lifetime event movie.
But Lovelace the movie diddles around with facts about Lovelace the person. Granted, it's easier to accept as a heroine a woman who is coerced into making a dirty movie by an overbearing husband; but the facts that are glossed over are even seamier. They include prostitution; Linda "auditioning" for a gangster who was backing Deep Throat, an audition that didn't involve reciting a nursery rhyme; and some earlier porn loops so raunchy they made Deep Throat look like an episode of Davey and Goliath, including an infamous one in which she co-starred with…well, someone who might have been called "Goliath." Also, near the end of her life, after years of crusading against the adult industry, Lovelace had started attending conventions and signing Deep Throat DVDs and appeared in a men's magazine pictorial.
Frankly, it would be impossible to tell the "real" story of Linda Lovelace in a way that would be palatable to a general audience. Plus, it's never really been clear what the "real" story of Linda Lovelace actually was.
Lovelace is nothing if not respectful of its subject. The film offers two versions of Lovelace's rise to porno stardom. As the first half unfolds, we see an innocent Linda lured down the primrose path by a duplicitous, skeevy Traynor; it's the Little Red Riding Hood story, only with bells and explosions. In the second half, we rewind, and see essentially the same story, only with a Traynor who is a violent psychopath who relentlessly abuses his wife. Either of these versions would arguably be approved by Linda, as neither shows her especially complicit in the dirty dealings; the first, "softer" version also alludes to abuse without showing it.
Here's what we never see: Linda as a multi-dimensional human being. This Linda Lovelace—or Linda Boreman, or Linda Traynor—could be anyone. There's little sense of the impact of her film on American culture and even less sense of the impact of her film on her life. What might have been interesting is all but ignored: the Lovelace enigma. People who worked with her, including Deep Throat co-star Harry Reems and Eric Edwards, who did loops with her, swear that Linda was a sexually uninhibited free spirit, and take issue with the idea that her every move was done with a gun at her head (though most people concede that Traynor was a controlling scum bag). She did interviews extolling free love, and she hob-nobbed with celebrities; her book, Ordeal, offers graphic descriptions of sex games with a famous film and recording star and his wife (who are portrayed in a winking, two-second cameo here). She might have been faking it the entire time, but plenty of people bought into it, and reading even her own books, there's a sense that perhaps, she bought into it, too, at least to a degree.
Arguably, the most interesting part of the Linda Lovelace story came after Deep Throat was made—the fame, the punchlines, leaving Traynor, trying to branch out on her own; then, her repudiation of the industry and her stint as a feminist icon. But Linda, at that point married to Larry Marchiano and the mother of two, found no comfort there, either, later complaining that the feminists had merely capitalized on her name and exploited her the way the pornographers and gangsters had. (Weirdly, in this telling, the organized crime figures who made millions exploiting her end up white knighting and rescuing her.) In Lovelace, the messy life of this messy woman gets a neatly tied-up ending so phony and pat that it comes across sloppy.
But there's a lot of sloppiness in Lovelace. In a 1970 scene, Chuck talks about seeing The French Connection, which wasn't released until late '71; it's a throw-away line, they couldn't have found a movie that was actually in release at the time, like Patton or MASH? Worse is the soundtrack, which offers up a kind of Kreskin's jukebox of songs that hadn't yet been recorded anachronistically bleating out of stereos and radios, including "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" (released 1976, played here in 1970), "Shotgun Shuffle" (1975, here as 1971), "Keep on Truckin'" (1973, here as 1971), and "I've Got to Use My Imagination," from 1973, which plays over the opening credits.
Are a few misplaced pop culture artifacts that big of a deal? Well, when your film is about a significant pop culture artifact, I'd say yes. Plus, it's indicative a problem inherent in Lovelace: There's no real sense of history.
The '70s weren't some amorphous blob of Nixon and disco; like any era, there were enormous changes along the way. Deep Throat could not have been the sensation it was at any other time in history other than the early '70s, and by extension, Linda Lovelace could not have been the sensation she was at any other time in history. If the film plays fast and loose with something as easily identifiable as pop music cues and a reference to an Oscar-winning movie, how reliable can it be as a meter of the times? Answer: Not very.
Seyfried acts her heart out as Linda, goes topless, and simulates sex, but it's all for naught; the performance is better than the film, but it doesn't salvage the film. Sarsgaard makes a good, oily villain of Chuck Traynor, and a number of fairly recognizable folks like Chris Noth, Adam Brody, and Bobby Cannavale turn up in small roles. The supporting performances range from surprisingly good (an unrecognizable Sharon Stone as Linda's harridan mother) to disappointing (a too-recognizable James Franco, woefully miscast as Hugh Hefner).
The disc from Anchor Bay sports a perfectly fine 1080p transfer and a good DTS-HD surround track. The lone supplement is a featurette in which the actors and directors talk about their impressions of the title character.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While Lovelace is all a bit phony and safe, it's a perfectly good time passer. It moves briskly, it looks nice, and as noted, most of the performances are pretty good. It skims the surface of a complicated life, but the high points are there. The less you know about Lovelace, the more you're likely to enjoy Lovelace.
The film doesn't examine Linda Lovelace so much as it patronizes her. It hedges its bets and skates around controversy, as though a legal expert was following the filmmakers around and screaming, "You can't do that!" Bland and predictable, Lovelace seems too concerned with softening its subject. Linda Lovelace wasn't made for Prime Time, but Lovelace certainly was.
Guilty of not going Deep enough.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
Review content copyright © 2013 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.