Dir. by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman - 1 hr. 33 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
"Lovelace" is the very definition of a "how the sausage got made" movie. That doesn't have anything to do with the quality of this film, or the performances. But it's important to know going in that this isn't a light-hearted, titillating look at how "Deep Throat" got made, or about the starlet herself. This is a take-down of an iconic piece of '70s culture, and lays the blame at the feet of one particular person, and that might not be the sort of thing that you are up for in your choice of entertainment. Do you enjoy portrayals of spousal abuse? And worse? "Lovelace" is definitely intense, particularly due to the structure of the film.
Linda (Amanda Seyfried) is a young suburban girl with a controlling family, and quickly falls for the charming Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard), a former Marine who owns a bar. They end up getting married, and when Chuck runs afoul of the law (and money troubles), he decides to take advantage of a particular skill that Linda possess, and pushes her to be in a porno. As it so happens, the movie in question, "Deep Throat," becomes the most successful film of it's kind (rumored to have drawn over $300 million at the box office, and that's in 1972 dollars, although much of it was cash, and thus unaccounted for), and turns Linda Lovelace (her new stage name) into a household name (and a repeated punchline for Johnny Carson).
Part of what makes "Lovelace" unique is the structure of the film, where it goes through the story once (up to a point), only hinting at the truly disturbing aspects of Linda's life. Chuck comes off as charming and manipulative, and Linda seems wide-eyed and in over her head, but mostly game for whatever. The second half of the film starts off with Linda taking a polygraph test on request from her publisher, because they need to be convinced that her accusations against Chuck are on the level before they'll print them. And emotionally speaking, it's all downhill from here. Chuck is portrayed as a drug-addled psychopath, turning Linda out for tricks whenever he's low on cash, and physically threatening and abusing her into agreeing to do "Deep Throat." A common description of this scenario says that if you're watching "Deep Throat," you're watching Lovelace being raped over and over, which certainly colors how much one could enjoy that movie. There's not much indication in the film that the other actors really knew what was going on, in terms of Chuck's threats and intimidation of Linda, aside from her co-star/make-up stylist noting some bruises on her thigh, but it's still a very murky situation.
A lot of this movie's merit rests on Amanda Seyfried's shoulders; she's alternately radiant and deeply tormented, but at no point can you take your eyes off of her. This role is demanding, to say the least, and she completely nails it (even the recreations of the cheesy dialogue from "Deep Throat"). Without her performance, the material is so harrowing that I'm not sure it would be watchable, or compelling. And this is a disturbing film. I'm not sure that anyone really believes that the reality of making pornography is all sunshine and rainbows, at any point in history. How far you want to argue that point is a political matter, and not one that I'm interested in delving into. It's clear that in this instance, Linda was manipulated and coerced into doing things that she didn't want to do. The question then becomes, what to do with the product itself? What to do with work that was created under intimidation (or straight-up criminal conditions)? This is the question that isn't addressed by "Lovelace," and even just to start a dialogue about the subject, I wish something had been put forth.
You don't have to go to the extreme of having someone performing non-consentual sexual acts on film to debate this point (and it's adjunct point - how much do you want to know about how your entertainment is made?), you can start with how Alfred Hitchcock treated the actresses in his films, and move sideways to works by people supposedly responsible for reprehensible acts, but there's nothing particularly criminal in how their work was made. Or does it even matter? Does it? Do you care about the demands on a NFL player's health, or is that completely irrelevant to one's enjoyment of professional football? For this film, "Lovelace" doesn't get into that. It does tell you how "Deep Throat" got made (at least from one perspective), and if you care enough to want to know how this sausage patty got made, you're not going to finish this film in a good mood. There is a choice each potential viewer has to make - do you want to look behind the curtain? Deep down, each of know that it's not going to be pretty, but you've got to decide one way or another, and then decide if what you see is enough to deter you from enjoying "Deep Throat" (or anything in that genre, really) or not. In this way, "Lovelace" is a deeply disturbing film that requires some self-examination out of it's audience, which might be as uncomfortable as enduring what Linda Lovelace did.
3 / 5 - Streaming