EXPECTATIONS: I will be disappointed if I don't get at least three musical montages, two whip pans and one intertitle written in a groovy retro font. Oh, who am I kidding? I can't get excited about this film. I can't even finish the trailer without counting the similarities to Boogie Nights and the collected works of Martin Scorsese.
REALITY: There's this bullshit tendency in Hollywood to celebrate sexual freedom in the first act of a film like Lovelace before bitch-slapping its practitioners by the final crawl. Lovelace -- like its predecessors, Wonderland and Auto Focus -- capitalizes on the opportunity to tell an incredibly bleak and probably true story to remind us of the wages of sin. That's fine. I don't know enough about the inner workings of porn to declare whether it's a means of exploitation and degradation or the ultimate expression of sexual freedom. The fundamental flaw of these films (and, as much as it pains me to admit it, Boogie Nights, the film that gave the '70s sex biopic its juice) is that they can't tell you either.
The man on the right has never held a camera in his life.
Lovelace, which follows Linda Lovelace nee Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) through the making of 1972's Deep Throat and beyond, compounds this flaw by presenting two competing versions of reality in the same movie. The first half of the film is devoted to the popular history of the making of Deep Throat, in which Lovelace meets strip-club proprietor Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), falls in love and blunders her way into the most pivotal porn film in American history. The second half more closely reflects Lovelace's version of the events, in which Deep Throat was the result of Traynor's coercion and abuse.
Unfortunately, neither half is particularly convincing because historical evidence negates both: A stag loop of Lovelace fucking a dog pre-Deep Throat renders the "I wandered into a hotel room and accidentally made my first porno" story a little unbelievable, while in the second half, the film omits that Lovelace was essentially high out of her mind for most of the early '70s.
I have no doubt that Lovelace was gang-raped, beaten and raped some more, and that she felt an enormous amount of pressure to appease Traynor by appearing in Deep Throat to help him settle his debts. After all, she passed a polygraph while telling her version of events. But given that a lot of the events in question happened behind closed doors between inebriated people, some of whom are now dead, and no one thought to document these events until a decade after, a 90-minute biopic is hardly an appropriate venue to sort this out. If anything, Lovelace is incontrovertible evidence that it's nigh-impossible to weave conflicting oral histories (no pun intended) into a compelling narrative with three acts and a denouement; life rarely unfolds according to dramatic structure.
male_gaze.jpgDirectors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are accomplished documentarians, but they're new-ish to narrative features, and they're working from a screenplay by another relative newcomer, playwright Andy Bellin. Together, the three of them aren't equipped to make the film that Lovelace should be, if it should be one at all.
Although I wasn't alive in the 1970s, the cinematography, costumes, makeup, hairstyles and set design all feel right, which is to say there's at least one righteous black dude with an afro and amber-tinted sunglasses that hide most of his cheeks. Elsewhere, Seyfried and Sarsgaard do as much as they can with what little they're given, but solid acting, loving devotion to period detail and a star-studded supporting cast (Sharon Stone, James Franco, Hank Azaria) aren't enough to save a bad biopic from itself.
A successful biopic should inspire the audience to consider the meaning of its subject's life. To do that, the filmmaker must pare that life down to its essence, which means reducing thousands of hours lived to 90 short minutes -- roughly 45 when you consider that each half of the film presents the same events from an incompatible perspective. Epstein and Friedman yield most of the film to the production and impact of Deep Throat, with plot points at the beginning and end hanging on like rogue couch stuffing.
What deeper understanding of Lovelace's life are we supposed to glean here? That she was a naive victim of Traynor's charms? That, as Seyfried-as-Lovelace states in a recreation of a Donahue interview, her Deep Throat days defined her life? "I'm a mother and a wife," she tells us, but that's meaningless in a film that all but ignores the time she spent as a mother, a wife, an anti-pornography crusader and an advocate for victims of domestic violence. Instead, it focuses on her contribution to a cultural flashpoint that arose from a haze of factors: relaxed sexual morals, rampant drug use among pornographers, criminals in their milieu ... and, apparently, domestic and sexual assault.
Even as it commits to telling a true story, Lovelace can't help but hit the Boogie Nights beats, but there's a vast gulf between Boogie Nights, which wove a bunch of real-life porn stories into a fictional tapestry and spent 155 minutes doing so, and films like Lovelace or Wonderland. I can save you a lot of time you would otherwise spend watching disco montages by telling you that either a strict or permissive upbringing will lead to a life in porn, which will lead to crime, drugs, violence, custody issues and/or death. Also, at some point, you'll probably do something incredibly embarrassing. Even if none of this happens, your porny past will haunt you for the rest of your days.
So stay away from porn, kids. It's bad for you. Respect your mother. Skip Lovelace. Watch Boogie Nights. Maybe watch Wonderland, if you like Val Kilmer. But please, for the love of God, if you know anyone who works in Hollywood or who has plans to make a movie, let them know that the period porn drama has been done to fucking death, unless it's set in the early 2000s and it's about Tubby Bob.
|Attention to Detail||10/10|
|This Elusive Art We Call Acting||7/10|
MINORITY REPORT: Who exactly is the market for porn-industry biopics, anyway? I have always wondered about this. Are there really people out there who are endlessly fascinated with the porn industry, but still have that last shred of dignity that keeps them from just locking themselves indoors and watching a bunch of porn? -Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade
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