Lovelace (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2013)
I try—these days, anyway (I make no promises of same in my vault reviews)—to limit my comments about actors of either sex to their performances rather than their looks, other than a generic comment here and there about eye candy when it’s obvious that a writer obviously put in a part of Nameless Hot Blonde (especially in a lead role). But given the subject matter and the thrust, no pun intended, of Lovelace, I think it’s fair to open this review by saying that from the moment I set eyes on a nineteen-year-old actress named Amanda Seyfried in 2004’s phenomenal comedy Mean Girls, I developed a life-size crush on her. I think she is, in the vernacular, crazy gorgeous, one of those actresses who usually ends up getting cast as the hanger-on (viz. Mean Girls) or the mousy best friend (Jennifer’s Body, about which Seyfried was the only thing worth watching) when she’s the prettiest woman in the room. (At least she’s got job security, since Janeane Garofalo, who was often relegated to those same roles, seems to have chosen to focus more on TV these days.) So as soon as I heard she was going to be starring in a Linda Lovelace biopic, I was champing at the bit. One of the most beautiful women in the world playing one of the most famous porn stars in the world? How could this go wrong? That turns out to be a far more complex question than it probably deserves to be, and because of that, I watched Lovelace almost a month ago as I write these words, and I’m still pondering the question. That leads me to believe the film is maybe more worth your time than I initially believed. But I am, as usual, getting ahead of myself.
If you’ve lived in a cave for the past forty-odd years, Lovelace is the tale of the world’s most famous porn star, Linda Lovelace (Seyfried). It starts when she and a friend, as rebellious teenagers, sneak out of the house to the roller rink and bump into Chuck Traynor (Orphan‘s Peter Sarsgaard), who sees something ineffable in Linda—a combination of beauty, insecurity, and naiveté, perhaps—and decides to try and mold her into a cash cow. (Literally, towards the end of the film.) Linda decides to go along for the ride, only finding out too late that Traynor stopped being the nice guy when the cash stopped rolling in. Along the way, however, Linda and Chuck befriended a number of the nascent porn industry’s movers and shakers; meanwhile, Linda Lovelace, ironically given her situation, came as close as anyone ever has to legitimizing the industry. We all know how that turned out, but it’s still fun to watch.
Towards the end of the film, there’s a voiceover that starts out “You know, I spent exactly seventeen days in the porn industry…”. That is, simply, untrue. Peter Sotos, among others, has written extensively about the depths to which Traynor’s abuse of Lovelace sunk. I wouldn’t say the filmmakers shied away from that material so much as swept it so far under the rug it never even had a chance to meet the cutting room floor. (Suffice to say Traynor directed Lovelace in a number of two-reelers that were, shall we say, oriented to vertical markets late in her career. If Sotos is to be believed, copies are some of the most highly sought-after pieces of pornography in existence; they have never been mass-duplicated, as some of the acts depicted therein are illegal in many places.) I bring this up because it’s synecdochic of the whole movie. I have heard Chaplin (1992) defended by people saying “if you’re going to make a film about a shallow person, your film should be shallow”, and there is an argument to be made there. However, it almost seems to me that Epstein and Friedman went the other way here; they took an extremely sordid tale and, while I understand that if you’re going to get an R rating you have to sanitize things for Hollywood, they might has well have kept the nipples covered and gone for the relatively easy PG-13 with this one. They couldn’t have made a more obvious, and more platformy, cautionary tale if they’re tried.
Oh, wait a minute. ** ½