Since the release of Deep Throat in 1972, there has been much discussion about the life of Linda Lovelace, here played by Amanda Seyfried, perhaps the first “well-known” star of pornography. There have been musicals — seriously — documentaries, an autobiography, and now Lovelace, a fictional biopic which paints Linda as an innocent victim who was forced into the life that wound up making her famous. It’s also about as generic as a film like this one could possibly be, likely because Linda’s life isn’t one that works well as a conventional film.
Lovelace details its star’s early life. We see her first in an uptight house, and then later living with an abusive man named Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) who winds up forcing her to participate in Deep Throat given that she, well, you can probably figure it out. He needs money, she thinks she’s in love, and the rest spirals out of control from there. The film then checks off rise-and-fall clichés left and right before eventually becoming so dull that even its somewhat controversial subject matter isn’t enough to hold our attention.
Almost none of this works. Almost every line of dialogue seems to want us to feel pity for Linda, and everyone else seems so disgusting that this might have worked. But when it all feels so generic and predictable, it’s hard to really care. Everything seems to happen so we can move from one cliché to the next. Nothing feels real or true — even if it is — and as a result it’s hard to emotionally invest in its proceedings.
The point of a movie like this one is to shine some light into the life of its lead, and Lovelace doesn’t do that. It forces her account of her life — it might not be based on her book but it takes her side in a disputed subject — into a narrative structure that we’ve seen time and time again in made-for-TV dramas. The only reason that this film is even allowed to be theatrically released is because it’s about a pornography star, and perhaps because of its depiction of domestic abuse.
Not only does the film not make any big revelations or points about Linda’s life, but it also constantly distracts us with fairly well-known actors showing up in supporting roles. Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick play Linda’s parents, Adam Brody plays her Deep Throat co-star, James Franco shows up as Hugh Hefner — no, really — and the likes of Wes Bentley, Juno Temple, Eric Roberts, Chloë Sevigny and Hank Azaria show up. Most of these actors aren’t box office draws but you recognize them and it takes you out of what’s supposed to be about Linda.
It’s as if the filmmakers knew they weren’t making a picture that was in any way involving, so they figured that throwing in a cameo from someone you recognize would hold our attention. “Hey, it’s James Franco. And he’s playing Hugh Hefner. Look at us! We’re still relevant. Pay attention. Wake up. Stop looking at your cell phone.” I think I checked the time every five minutes after Lovelace got rolling. Maybe it was every three. I’ve not been this bored by a movie that had this much potential in a long time.
If there’s a part of Lovelace that succeeds it’s the way that it manages to take us back to the 1970s rather effectively. From the clothes to the dialogue, this movie does feel like it is taking place in the time period it wants to. There’s a scene where people go roller skating. That isn’t a popular pastime anymore. It was then, so it’s appropriate for the characters to go there. The music also helps set the mood. Not much is done with the setting — no observations are made, for example — but it does at least feel authentic.
Here are three better ways you can learn about Linda Lovelace. (1) You can read her biography on Wikipedia. This is probably the most time-efficient method. (2) You can watch Inside Deep Throat, which has interviews about that film’s history. (3) You can read Linda’s autobiography, Ordeal, although keep in mind that many of her claims are disputed. She passed a polygraph prior to its publication but those can be inaccurate or beaten.
Whatever faults Lovelace has do not come from Amanda Seyfried or Peter Sarsgaard. Seyfried gets “uglied up” for the role and seems fine with the requisite nudity, and when she’s not having to act scared for her life, she’s very good in the role. Sarsgaard hits the right balance between controlling sociopath and seducer. You can almost see why Linda would do these things for him. The script forces the actors into one-note roles by the end; Linda is pathetic and Sarsgaard is a villain without any depth or complexity.
Lovelace is a dull and generic, and unless you’ve already exhausted all other methods for learning about Linda Lovelace, you have no reason to seek it out. It doesn’t contain the depth or insight that a good biopic needs; instead, it forces Linda’s life into the clichés of the genre. I was immensely bored by this movie, even with the cameos from notable actors like James Franco, who shows up and does a terrible job as Hugh Hefner. I can’t get over that. If not for its subject matter, this would be a film relegated to television. Don’t give it your time.