Like a lot of porn, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s “Lovelace” is anticlimactic, aimless and extremely unsexy. The film follows the young Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried), better known as “Linda Lovelace,” who left her repressive Catholic parents (played by Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone, unrecognizable in an excellent yet entirely fruitless Oscar bid) for the abusive Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). As her manager and husband, Traynor manipulated her into becoming the star of “Deep Throat,” a 1972 pornographic phenomenon. The 60-minute film was shot in less than a week, with all interior shots filmed in the same cheap motel room. It cost $30,000 to make but grossed almost $600 million, making it one of the most profitable films ever made. Boreman only ever collected a salary of $1,250.
In the 2010 Allen Ginsberg biopic, “Howl,” directors Epstein and Friedman similarly attempted to deconstruct an icon. With “Lovelace,” they make another ambitious attempt at demystification, but they end up with a very limited portrayal that seems more like an impressive television movie than a daring exploration of the darker elements of Boreman’s life.
“Lovelace” follows the brutality and degradation Boreman suffered during her marriage to Traynor and her career in the porn industry before she eventually escaped and went on to write a memoir about her experiences. The film’s bifurcated structure first presents the fantasy of Boreman’s marriage and career as perceived by the public before going back and allowing audiences to observe Boreman’s life through her own eyes. However, the film presents an overwhelmingly simplified version of Boreman’s story, removing many of the most shocking and painful aspects of her life — drug addiction, bestiality, her violent death. The film also glosses over Boreman’s activism in second-wave feminist movements.
Boreman played a crucial role as a spokeswoman for the anti-pornography movement in the early ’80s. However, Andy Bellin’s screenplay cuts out this key part of her life, ignoring her influence on feminist thought. The film arrives at a very abrupt conclusion, attempting to do justice to Boreman’s later life in the final 10 minutes. Despite reports that Sarah Jessica Parker had been cast as anti-porn activist Gloria Steinem in the film, both Steinem and fellow activist Andrea Dworkin are absent. The script instead seems to suggest that Boreman was rescued from the brutality of the porn industry by her second husband and child, as we see her gushing, “As a wife and as a mother, I have found my joy.”
The film suffered from predictably sexist marketing, as film posters depicted Seyfried with come-hither gaze, lips suggestively parted and a falling bra strap exposing cleavage and bare shoulders. However, “Lovelace” is ironically sexless for a film about pornography. Epstein and Friedman opted to treat the sexuality of the film with humor rather than eroticism. Adam Brody, a former star of “The O.C.” and now delightfully adorned with a porn-star mustache as Lovelace’s co-star Harry Reems, told The New York Times, “It’s more ‘American Pie’ than it is Lars von Trier.” The film rests heavily on the notion that all ’70s porn was facetious, and the few sex scenes we do see from “Deep Throat” suggest a cheery and comic production.
The film’s overall attitude toward sex is somewhat confused, as we are offered an abundance of shots of Seyfried topless — along with moments of frivolity and silliness during her scenes with Reems — before abrupt shifts to segments depicting the gritty reality of domestic violence, marital rape and abuse in the (largely mafia-led) porn industry.
“Lovelace” effectively reveals the violence against women that was widespread in the sex industry in the ’70s, but the film is extremely limited in its representation of Boreman and her later life. If “Lovelace” intends to illustrate that Boreman was more than just the brutalized star of “Deep Throat,” it falls flat. The film becomes too lost in the cultural ornaments of the decade and the comic production of “Deep Throat” to make any kind of passionate impact on the viewer, offering a mere glimpse into the life of Linda Boreman before and after her short-lived porn career. For a film about porn, “Lovelace” unsatisfactorily fails to penetrate.