SUNDANCE 2013

Sundance '13: Porn Star Biopic 'Lovelace' Goes to Very Dark Places

by
January 23, 2013

Lovelace

The real Linda Lovelace endured some unspeakably horrible things during her rise and fall from fame, and a lot of those elements of her life have been used in other movies. Much of the biopic Lovelace feels familiar - we've seen stories about how the seedy porn industry comes with some dangerous characters and can easily corrupt people - but while this movie often feels like it's using cliches as storytelling crutches, it's important to remember that Lovelace actually lived through these events before they became fodder for popular fiction. Led by Amanda Seyfried, Lovelace is dark look at the life of porn's first adult superstar.

Linda Boreman (Seyfried) is a repressed, religious 21-year-old girl living in Florida in 1970. Her mother (an unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and father (Robert Patrick) are strict and extremely conservative, freaking out when Linda and her friend Patsy (Juno Temple) wear bikinis to sunbathe in the yard. One night, Patsy convinces Linda to shed her inhibitions and become a go-go dancer at a skate rink, where she's spotted by the skeezy Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Chuck plays on Linda's insecurities to lure her into marriage, and then spends the entire film using her for his own personal gain.

In order to combat the traditional rise and fall structure of a standard biopic, writer Andy Bellin and directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman present the film in a muti-layered fashion, with the first half of the movie detailing the transformation of Linda Boreman into the phenomenon Linda Lovelace following Traynor's discovery of Linda's...talents. The film follows her rise to prominence during the success of Deep Throat, keeping an upbeat pace and funny tone as the movie is being made. (There are more than a few parallels to Boogie Nights, including the production design.) After the film goes mainstream, Linda becomes a star and starts rubbing shoulders with some Hollywood bigwigs, including Sammy Davis, Jr. and a bizarre cameo from James Franco as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Lovelace

Everything seems to be going well for the most part, but then the film skips ahead six years to a ragged-looking Linda taking a polygraph test to discover whether or not she's telling the truth about what Chuck Traynor did to her. The second half of the movie flashes back and recontextualizes what we've already seen, showing moments that were hidden the first time through the narrative that reveal how Traynor abuses Linda mentally, physically, and sexually, threatening her with guns and forcing her into prostitution. Many of these moments are not easy to watch - a sequence where he tortures her in a cold shower pales in comparison to a five person gang rape he organizes - but folding the movie back on itself like that and filling in the gaps is a clever storytelling technique that improves what would have otherwise been a conventional biopic of an unconventional star.

Seyfried gives a layered performance as Linda, shedding more than just her clothes to play a naive and damaged woman trapped in a terrible situation. She's an actor playing an actor, and Seyfried does her best work when Linda tries to hide the awful reality that she has to live through every day. Peter Sarsgaard is also very good as Chuck, transitioning from a carefree 70s vibe to a full-on sadist over the course of the movie. There's no redemption for a person like this, and Sarsgaard gives Chuck a palpable menace and psychotic edge.

Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, and Chris Noth do fine work to round out the supporting cast, but I want to give a quick shout-out to Stone and Patrick as Linda's parents. Stone doesn't play a likeable character but she embraces her role anyway, and while Patrick spends most of the movie with a stoic look plastered across his face, he's particularly heartbreaking and emotional in one sequence in which he tells Linda on the phone about how he saw her movie. Unfortunately, using Franco as Hefner was an interesting bit of stunt casting that ended up being more distracting than funny.

The movie skips forward again and reveals that Linda has written a tell-all book about her experiences with Chuck, and Epstein and Friedman utilize an impressive technical trick as they intercut footage of Seyfried as Linda with a real interview on a TV show where she speaks out about her experiences. But despite the film's attempts to end with a positive message, spending the whole movie watching Linda get beaten down makes it really tough to walk away from this thinking it's anything other than a huge downer. Lovelace is an effective biopic that informs and entertains, even if its tone is overwhelmingly depressing.

Ben's Sundance Rating: 6 out of 10

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  • Xerxexx
    Is...is there a scene with a...dog?
    • $6296288
      *shudder*........god, i hope not.
      • Xerxexx
        Its fact though...gotta include facts...no matter how disturbing.
        • $6296288
          yea - i know the story.......but......YIKES - some things are better left to the imagination! LOL
          • Xerxexx
            I don't wanna imagine. You can't make me!!!!
        • DollWatcher
          Nope. If "Fido goes down" is even mentioned,it gets a xxx rating & this flick will tank. Pervs alone won't make it a box office success.
          • Xerxexx
            good point.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7YGEVuJ4mM Carpola
    Seems a heavy movie.
  • David Banner
    Hmmm....no mention of the last years of her life, what she said and did? That might change many skeptics minds
  • http://thesolarsentinel.blogspot.com/ Alan Trehern
    Oh wow, she's from Florida...imagine that!
  • elizabeth matz
    I hope it is a very disturbing film. These comments about the specific torture she was subjected to, beyond rape by men, was something beyond traumatic for her that she would not talk about. I worked with Linda in some anti-pornography actions and programs. She was forced into sexual slavery, a world wide crime which is starting to be acknowledged as "traffic in humans" and "sex trafficking." It's men profiting from rape of girls, boys and young women internationally for billions of dollars. When "Ordeal" was published she was ridiculed and demeaned by much of the mainstream press. This including an article in The Nation by A Nier (sp?) of the Human Rights Watch in which he doubted and ridiculed her.

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