Linda Lovelace, star of “Deep Throat,” was a better actress, apparently, than anyone gave her credit for.
According to “Lovelace,” a new dramatic biography of the late porn star, the performer was anything but the libidinous free spirit, anti-censorship spokesmodel and champion of the female orgasm that some of us believed — or, more accurately, wanted — her to be. Lovelace’s fame exploded with the 1972 release of an hourlong featurette showcasing her prodigious skill and appetite for oral sex.
Instead, according to “Lovelace,” the actress was a naive victim of psychological manipulation and outright physical abuse by her husband, Chuck Traynor, who coerced her into doing the movie, which went on to make $600 million — not to mention cinematic history — for the paltry sum of $1,250.
Okay, so none of this is exactly news.
Lovelace, who’s nicely played by Amanda Seyfried here, published a memoir in 1980 detailing all of these charges. It’s telling, though, that even then the publishers of her book, “Ordeal,” found it so hard to believe her so-called change of heart that they made her undergo a polygraph test to prove she wasn’t lying about performing under duress. (She passed, as shown in the film.) It’s also telling that “Inside Deep Throat,” a well-received 2005 documentary looking at the cultural impact of the 1972 film, spent most of its energy examining the role of “Deep Throat” — and, by extension, Lovelace — in the sexual revolution, giving only scant attention to her allegations.
So maybe we need to be reminded: Porn kills.
Do you think that assessment is a bit harsh? “Lovelace” hands out the handkerchiefs well before it gets to the point where it takes note of its namesake’s untimely death from injuries sustained in a 2002 car accident. Its maudlin third act mars what is, for much of the film, a pretty nuanced and well-acted biopic, as well as something of a cultural critique.
Seyfried deserves most of the praise, capturing a sense of Lovelace, who was born Linda Boreman, as a real, complex individual, and not merely as an object of fantasy. Peter Sarsgaard is also excellent as the creepy and charming Traynor, a hippie loser who is alternately bullying and needy (and whose sexual obsessions led him to marry another porn star, Marilyn Chambers, after he divorced Lovelace).
The rest of the cast is, for the most part, perfectly adequate, letting their bell-bottomed leisure suits and perms do most of the acting. Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, Eric Roberts and Bobby Cannavale play porn-industry types with an appropriate squirt of Brylcreemed sleaze, yet James Franco is woefully miscast as a young, lizard-like Hugh Hefner. Adam Brody makes a fun Harry Reems, Lovelace’s goofy co-star, yet Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone are even better as Lovelace’s Catholic parents. In “Lovelace,” Dad and Mom are, respectively, tortured and torturing.
Thankfully, there’s not terribly much in the way of psychological analysis. In the eyes of the movie, at least, Lovelace didn’t make “Deep Throat” as a way of compensating for Daddy withholding his love.
The most interesting thing about “Lovelace” isn’t its cast, but its structure. It starts by showing Linda as an impressionable, typically rebellious Florida teen, and follows her up through the making of “Deep Throat,” which was shot in about a week. It initially tells this story the way the world chose to believe it: as a tale of an accidental sexual revolution, characterized by taboo-busting high spirits.
But then it backtracks and starts all over again, telling that same story a second time, only now as a tawdry melodrama of a battered woman. On this second pass, Traynor is less playboy than psychopath and Lovelace is less a champion of sexual agency than a pitiful rape victim.
It’s an effective, if slightly sneaky, way of holding up for ridicule the collective — and, quite frankly, impossible — male fantasy that we, as a society, seemed to have swallowed when it comes to the enduring myth of “Deep Throat.”
R. At AFI Silver Theatre and AMC Loews Rio Cinemas. Contains sex, nudity, drug use, violence and obscenity. 92 minutes.