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Sundance Review: Sundance Porn Star Biopic 'Lovelace' a Limp Melodramatic Affair

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire January 23, 2013 at 3:23PM

Linda Boreman, née Linda Lovelace, took the porn world by the storm with her breakthrough performance in 1972's seminal blue movie "Deep Throat," but few audience members cared about her life offscreen. That's technically the focus of "Lovelace," a tame look at the actress' rise and the abuse she faced from husband Charlie Traynor behind the camera. The very existence of the project suggests most people don't know the whole story. But many do, thanks to Lovelace's tell-all memoir "Ordeal," the publication of which arrives at the climax. Like the public narrative of Linda Lovelace at the height of her fame, the movie lives in a fantasy where it has something important to say.
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Lovelace Review Amanda Seyfried

Linda Boreman, née Linda Lovelace, took the porn world by the storm with her breakthrough performance in 1972's seminal blue movie "Deep Throat," but few audience members cared about her life offscreen. That's technically the focus of "Lovelace," a tame look at the actress' rise and the abuse she faced from husband Charlie Traynor behind the camera. The very existence of the project suggests most people don't know the whole story. But many do, thanks to Lovelace's tell-all memoir "Ordeal," the publication of which arrives at the climax. Like the public narrative of Linda Lovelace at the height of her fame, the movie lives in a fantasy where it has something important to say.

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, whose Allen Ginsberg portrait "Howl" similarly attempted to deconstruct an icon through the filter of cultural myth, delve immediately into an investigation of Lovelace's early life with a stylishly over-the-top approach: The opening minutes contain a collage of media questioning the gaps in her legacy and waxing poetic about her cultural impact, while in the title role, Amanda Seyfried soaks in a bathtub and gazes to nowhere. The ensuing narrative tracks Lovelace's burgeoning screen persona by finding its roots in her strict suburban upbringing.

While evading the strict parenting tactics of her zealous mother (Sharon Stone, in a transparently mopey and utterly vain Oscar bid) and sullen father (Robert Patrick), the pre-Lovelace Boreman indulges in a party lifestyle with her neighborhood pal (Juno Temple). On one particularly wild night out, she meets the suave Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a local nightclub owner who quickly wins over her affections. After impressing her parents, Trayner convinces Boreman to move in with him as he broadens her sexual horizons, naturally foreshadowing her imminent career. A bit involving Traynor teaching Boreman how to perform fellatio naturally points to the skill she will soon display on camera. But even "Lovelace" as turns up the heat, it never gets kinky. A noticeably less graphic portrayal of the porn industry than Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights," the new movie comes across as overly reverential toward the plight of its heroine even when she's apparently into it.

Beyond its pointless structural trickery, "Lovelace" suffers from lame dialogue that provides a cheap shortcut to emphasizing the nastiness of Linda's world.

"Lovelace" continues through the motions with the actress landing a role through Traynor's connections in the porn project that would eventually bring her to the public's attention. Once it gets that far, however, the filmmakers introduce a form of narrative trickery at odds with Lovelace's renown. Flashing forward to six years after the premiere of "Deep Throat," the directors find their subject on the brink of a lie detector test as she prepares to sign a contract for her book. Then we're back in the past, seeing the real story, which is mainly defined by the real Chuck: Far from the benevolent conduit to a better world, he constantly abuses her body and sells it to strangers, coming across as an abusive, power-hungry misogynist. While it may cull from the truth, Sarsgaard's one-note villainous turn provides a jarring contrast to the earlier scenes in a failed attempt to contrast the popular understanding of the story and its darker truths.

Beyond its pointless structural trickery, "Lovelace" suffers from lame dialogue that provides a cheap shortcut to emphasizing the nastiness of Linda's world. (Chuck: "How 'bout the next time I want your opinion, I'll ask you what my cock tastes like?") The performances run along the same lines. Seyfriend tries valiantly make her character into a figure of sympathy, but Sarsgaard delivers little more than a one-note monster, while various bit parts distract from the plot by laying bare its gimmickry (James Franco as a dapper Hugh Hefner! Wes Bentley as her first photographer! Chole Sevigny as…a random journalist!).

"Lovelace" positions itself as a serious investigation of its topic but always seems like it's on the brink of breaking down into giggles. Just as the frequent cutaways from sexual activity tone down the titillation, "Lovelace" never garners the energy to construct a fully involving melodrama, rarely rising above Lifetime movie standards. Given the material, the irony here is that the filmmakers play it too safe.

Criticwire grade: D

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Purchased by RADiUS-TWC after its Sundance premiere, "Lovelace" is bound to perform exceedingly well on VOD while generating significantly smaller returns in limited release.

This article is related to: Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Lovelace, Amanda Seyfried







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