Berlin Film Festival review: Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried as the troubled Deep Throat star

Sleazy and earnest by turns, the film is lifted by strong central performances

This biopic of notorious 1970s porn star Linda Lovelace wants to have it both ways.

On the one hand, filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman wax nostalgic for the heady days of Deep Throat (the 1972 hardcore film that made Lovelace an international star), evoking a lost era of disco, sideburns, flares and extreme hedonism. On the other, they are telling a very grim story about a woman who was a victim of extreme abuse, both on camera and at the hands of her ultra-sleazy husband, Chuck Traynor.

The lurches from knockabout comedy to scenes of horrific domestic violence are disconcerting but this is a far more nuanced film than might have been anticipated.

Amanda Seyfried excels as Linda. It is a very challenging role indeed, requiring her to change from free-spirited, 21-year-old girl next door type that we first encounter to the haunted and battered woman she becomes in the wake of her marriage to Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard.)

Andy Bellin’s screenplay leaps backward and forward in time, offering us different perspectives on the same events.

The young Linda chafes against her aloof and conservative parents (played in very dour fashion by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick.) Chuck, the pot-smoking hippy, offers her an escape. Only gradually does she realize that he has no money and is in trouble with the law.

As in Boogie Nights, the filmmakers show the camaraderie and humour of the porn pioneers.  Linda’s co-stars and director are (relatively) sympathetic and self-mocking. Linda herself seems to enjoy being in the spotlight, meeting Hugh Hefner (James Franco) and becoming a household name.

Only slowly do we realise quite how seedy and violent the porn subculture really is. Chuck becomes more and more abusive to Linda. He is intensely jealous of her success and yet he is the one who controls – and recklessly – spends the money they earn. It’s a testament to Sarsgaard’s performance that repellent though Chuck’s behaviour is, he is able to wring at least a little pathos from the character.

The details about Linda (who died in a car crash in 2002) are already well known. As the film again makes very clear, her career as a porn star was brief. Deep Throat made millions. Her cut was barely a thousand dollars. She later wrote a memoir called Ordeal in which she stated that she had been coerced into appearing in Deep Throat

This biopic manages the feat of remaining entertaining even as its storyline becomes progressively darker. Lovelace is at once an exploitation pic itself (with a healthy smattering of star cameos) and a critique of exploitation movies. The directors perform an unlikely balancing act, throwing in cheap jokes about fellatio alongside feminist polemic.

Lovelace was produced by Millennium, a company best known for action movies like The Expendables. You can’t help but wonder just why they – and directors Epstein and Friedman – wanted to make it.  Sleazy and earnest by turns, the film is ultimately lifted by the central performances and by the intelligence and sensitivity with which it tackles such sordid material.

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