Thursday, August 15, 2013

Culture Shock 08.15.13: 'Lovelace' biopic leaves little to love

The first half of "Lovelace" is an airbrushed portrait of the sexual revolution in the early 1970s, as seen through the lens of the adult film business.

With the free-flowing fashions, Earth-tone hues, shag carpeting and a soundtrack of "AM Gold" hits, it's a comforting, almost nostalgic trip to a time that is simultaneously seedier yet more innocent than today.

It was a time when a movie called "Deep Throat" could upend middle class sensibilities while at the same time drawing audiences that lined up around the block, lines filled with celebrities, critics and just plain folks. When it was all done, "Deep Throat" had become the first pornographic film to become part of the national conversation, from talk shows to Johnny Carson monologues to Watergate informants.

The woman at the center of it was Linda Boreman, soon to be known to the world as Linda Lovelace, and the subject of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's biopic "Lovelace" (rated R), now on video on demand and in limited theatrical release.

When we meet her, Linda (Amanda Seyfried, under a frizzy brunette wig and freckled makeup) is a naïve 21-year-old, living with her parents in Florida, where, we learn, they've fled in shame after Linda's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The Boremans are a conservative, Catholic family. Linda's dad, John Boreman (Robert Patrick), is a former New York cop, and her mom, Dorothy, played by an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone, believes the man in the family is the head of the household, and what he says goes.

Obviously, Dorothy's attitude will lead to trouble later on.

Soon, Linda meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), who says he runs a restaurant and bar but tells Linda not to ask about what he really does. He provides an easy escape from Linda's stifling home life, and the next thing you know, they're married.

The film breezes through the couple's money problems, Chuck instructing the novice Linda in the ways of love and Linda apparently solving their money woes by parlaying her new skills into a career in adult films, culminating in her becoming a household name and partying with the likes of Hugh Hefner (James Franco, playing James Franco playing Hugh Hefner).

But the film is only half over, and next we're reliving the events leading up to Linda's stardom, this time with all the nasty bits the CliffsNotes version left out. Now we're watching what might as well be a Lifetime "victim" movie, in which Linda has virtually no agency of her own and is just the pawn of her husband, who abuses her emotionally and physically, forces her into the porn business against her will, and even forces her into prostitution, at gunpoint.

Linda Lovelace ceases to become the protagonist in her own movie. Even how she finally summons the courage to leave Chuck is lost as the movie flashes ahead several years to find Linda now happily married and a mother.

The real-life Lovelace told interviewers like Phil Donahue she spent only 17 days in the porn business, yet she portrayed herself as expert enough to become an anti-porn crusader who followed up her autobiography "Ordeal," on which "Lovelace" is based, with her anti-pornography broadside "Out of Bondage." The real woman was far more complex than either heroine or victim.

Seyfried again proves she is an underrated actress, as does Stone, who here completely sheds her femme fatale image. Both deliver performances better than "Lovelace" merits.

Ironies abound. "Deep Throat" launched a major free speech battle, in which Lovelace fought on the opposite side. But this look at the "Deep Throat" star lacks the depth to explore it, or her.

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