Movie Review: “Lovelace”

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“Lovelace” is a schizophrenic movie experience that attempts to lift the cover off the pot and let the truth boil over, but in the end, we’re left with the realization that somebody forgot to turn up the heat in the first place.

The film is centered around the contents within the novel “Ordeal,” by Linda Marchiano, which focuses on part of the 17 days she spent acting in the adult film business under the name Linda Lovelace.

Why should anyone care about one, solitary porn star in an industry that has employed thousands, upon thousands of women? Before and after her?

Well, frankly because that one film, simply titled “Deep Throat,” changed the way the public viewed adult films in general and, according to the epilogue, grossed over $600 million dollars.

However, not to make light of anything that happened to Lovelace throughout her extremely short stint in the skin flick biz, but the traumatic incidents that she allegedly went through, according to the events of “Lovelace,” just don’t seem that… well… traumatic.

And that’s completely the fault of the filmmakers – specifically the directors (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman – together they made the 1995 documentary “The Celluloid Closet” and 2010’s Allen Ginsberg biopic “Howl” starring James Franco) and the screenwriter (Andy Bellin – also wrote 2010’s “Trust” with Clive Owen, Catherine Keener and Viola Davis). They managed to take a strong story, which had the makings of a true-to-life version of the “Boogie Nights,” and saddled it with an unnecessary and gimmicky idea that ended up slicing the film into two acts – ultimately doing more harm than good.

Without hitting the viewer over the head, the film essentially presents two perspectives regarding the events of Lovelace’s “ordeal.”

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace in "Deep Throat" in "Lovelace"

Everything looked cooler in the 70’s… unless you lived through the 70’s, then everything sucked.

The film opens with a short introductory collage that gives the viewer a very brief synopsis of what they’re getting into. This even includes some black-and-white, archival footage of Walter Cronkite describing “Deep Throat,” in which he calls it “… one of the most popular blue movies of all-time.”

After the succinct opening, we get into the first half, which essentially portrays “Lovelace” as a love STORY, of sorts. It opens up with Linda and her best friend Patsy sunbathing in the backyard of the Long Island home, in which Linda lives with her crotchety, overbearing, old-school mother (Sharon Stone in a small, but extremely effective role) and her hard-edge, ex-cop of a father (Robert Patrick).

It is here that we are first given a glimpse into what kind of girl Linda was before all of the bad news entered into her life – and that glimpse is of a prudish, inexperienced, naïve 21-year old girl who finds the act of fellatio disgusting, which is ironic considering how she finds her fame later.

After a night at the roller rink with Patsy, where the two of them are employed as go-go dancers for a funk band, she catches the eye of the owner of a local “fine eatery where pretty girls work” (aka – a strip club) named Chuck Traynor. After an awfully short courtship – complete with the obligatory “meet the parents” scene, albeit one with a certain twist that most cunning linguists would find interesting, Linda moves in with Chuck and is married before you can say the words “rushing the plot along.”

Linda is now free. Free from what, I have no idea. Considering her home life didn’t seem to be that bad; other than one scene, in which her mother slaps her in the face for coming home too late from a date with Chuck. In fact, that scene lasts all of about 30 seconds and immediately following it is the scene of Linda packing her belongings into Chuck’s car and moving out.

Again, throughout the film, the proceedings sometimes feel rushed and major character revelations get lost in the shadows because of it. For example, there’s a moment where Linda tells Chuck the origin story of her famous c-section scar, which involves an unwanted pregnancy, the baby’s eventual adoption, and the reasoning behind the family’s move from Yonkers to Long Island.

Peter Sarsgaard and Seyfried in "Lovelace"

Awwww……. how sweet.

It’s as if the filmmakers don’t care about things like the “how” or the “why” and they only focus on the “who,” the “when,” and the “where.” The omission of things like motivations and feelings is a big problem throughout the whole film and is evident in both halves.

Next, we have the awkward, yet magical, first encounter between the very experienced Chuck and the not very experienced Linda. In the blink of an eye, we’re to believe that Chuck turns this helpless, demure creature into a sexual dynamo in the same way that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-son the art of karate.

Wow… my bad. There’s some metaphorical imagery that I probably shouldn’t have dredged up AND I apologize profusely for any strange dreams/nightmares that may ensue.

Anyway, Chuck teaches Linda the fine art of getting the “job” done. This includes instructional comments like, “don’t forget to breathe,” “your mind has control,” and “take it in,” which are immediately followed by Chuck’s confidence-building words of “Outta sight.” For some odd reason (and by “odd,” I mean obvious), Chuck decides that this is the gal he wants to spend the rest of his life with, the two of them get married and life is groovy.

Cut to six months later and Linda’s long, flowing locks are replaced by her signature curly, white girl afro puffs. Her relationship with Chuck is also on the rocks, considering the fact that he just got arrested, due to the tiny, little detail that the girls at his strip club were soliciting prostitution – something Linda (and apparently Chuck) had no idea was going on. Chuck now desperately needs money to get him out of this predicament and, during a scene in a diner, we also see Chuck’s temper for the first time, although in a semi-small dose.

Peter Sarsgaard gives a commanding performance as Chuck Traynor and it’s basically a two-man show between him and Amanda Seyfried. I’m pretty sure that you can’t find ONE scene, in the whole movie, that doesn’t have at least one of them in it. That being said, Sarsgaard is fundamentally portraying two different sides of Chuck in each half of the film and in the first half, the film belongs to Chuck.

It is here we see Chuck as a man who is forced into a dilemma, one where he must ask more than he should from someone he loves very much.

Sarsgaard yelling at Seyfried.

I’m telling you this one time. Sarsgaard is way more of a Nordic name than Seyfried is. It’s a fact. Look it up… in the encyclopedia.

In essence, you almost feel sorry for what Chuck is forced to go through. He is being used by exceptionally powerful men, while the woman he cares about is REALLY being used by them in a totally different manner. We watch as Chuck is forced to trade love for a solution to his financial problems… and he begins to hate himself for it. As the first half closes, he is about to lose Linda to outside forces that he cannot control.

It is Chuck that asks Linda to audition for a role, which is (unbeknownst to her, at first) in a pornographic movie. It is Chuck that proudly convinces the adult filmmakers that she has a gift and the whole world needs to be privy to it. It is also Chuck who gently convinces Linda of that same exact point. It is Chuck who’s always at Linda’s side; protecting her and looking out for her well-being. Even though, sometimes he could be misconstrued as being too possessive, he is always in Linda’s corner. Although, money and debt both play a part, it’s love that drives Chuck – his love for Linda.

However, in the second half, it’s a much different Chuck… vastly different. Sarsgaard excels at playing both halves of Chuck Traynor. If truth be told, he gets better as Chuck gets worse. Sarsgaard is so adept at playing the slimeball role (with his greasy handlebar moustache and his wardrobe of sweaty, mesh tank-tops and polyester slacks), it makes his performance in the first half that much more awe-inspiring – because both performances are of the same guy. What I’m trying to say is: The character doesn’t change; only our perspective does – and Sarsgaard has us eating out of his filthy hands the whole way through. What a brilliant performance. Dare I say, Oscar-worthy?

In the second half, the perspective switches to Linda… and Linda only. Even though the first half started with Linda and Patsy, it didn’t pick up until she met Chuck. Like I stated before, Linda’s 17 days in the adult film business only happened due to Chuck’s connections. He was the one that convinced the producers (Bobby Cannavale as Butchie Peraino and Chris Noth as Anthony Romano – both with great performances)

Linda and Harry perform for the crew

Whaddya think, Mr. Big? Does he live up to your namesake?

and the director (the always fantastic Hank Azaria as Gerry Damiano) to cast the freckle-faced, “Raggedy Ann” look-a-like Linda as a sexy, “pizzazz-filled” porn starlet.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: The scenes that involve the making of “Deep Throat” – either at the audition, with Cannavale and Azaria, or on-set with all three of them (including Noth) –were easily the most entertaining to watch. These moments certainly owe quite a bit of inspiration to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 masterpiece “Boogie Nights.” This is especially true during the scene in which Azaria and Cannavale cock their heads to the side while watching Linda “do her thing.” This is essentially the same scene, in which Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, etc. cock their heads to one side, slightly, when seeing Mark Wahlberg (as Dirk Diggler) and his gift “in action.” On the flip side, I think “Boogie Nights” probably owes a great deal to the original “Deep Throat,” specifically the horribly funny dialogue and ridiculous plot points within the script. This goes for both the real film-within-a-film of “Deep Throat” (in “Lovelace”) and the fake pornos with Chest Rockwell and Brock Landers in “Boogie Nights.” In “Lovelace,” Adam Brody and Debi Mazar are spot on as Harry Reems and

Adam Brody as Harry Reems and Seyfried as Lovelace

Now THAT is a pornstache… fer real, though.

Dolly Sharp. Brody shines with his pornstache and atrocious overacting and undetectable accent (in “Deep Throat,” not “Lovelace” – wow, this is getting confusing), while Mazar is hilarious while delivering the classic “Deep Throat” line, “Do you mind if I smoke while you eat?”

There is one scene in particular, that brings everything and everyone together. When Reems (Brody)… ummh… prematurely finishes his first-ever scene with Lovelace, the director (Azaria) asks Reems, “What is this, your junior prom?” To which Reems replies, “Just gimme three minutes and I can go again.” At this point, Lovelace turns to the director and the two producers (Cannavale and Noth, respectively) and asks with a sly, yet naïve, look in her eye, “Did I do something wrong?” To which the whole crew, as if on cue, answers in unison, “No, no, no, sweetheart.” Classic stuff.

If the first half has a fairy-tale quality to it – even ending with Lovelace on stage and being introduced to a cheering and adoring crowd of her peers by Hugh Hefner (played by James Franco in a completely short and pointless role) – the whole second half of the film belongs to Lovelace and her unflinching perspective.

It begins with Lovelace taking a polygraph exam – six years after the opening of “Deep Throat” (pun definitely intended). We later learn, this lie detector test is ordered by the publishers of her autobiography, the aforementioned “Ordeal,” just to make sure that she’s telling the truth about both her relationship with Chuck Traynor and the events surrounding the production of “Deep Throat.”

[REALLY] QUICK SIDE NOTE: The examiner who delivers the polygraph test to Lovelace is played by none-other-than Eric Roberts. How’s this for some movie trivia nonsense? In 1983, legendary choreographer-turned-director Bob Fosse made a docudrama called “Star 80.” The film was a true story about the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Dorothy Stratten, and how she was tragically shot to death by her mega-jealous husband/manager, Paul Snider, who couldn’t handle her success. I’ll give you three guesses as to which part Eric Roberts played. Oh, you only need one guess. That’s right, Roberts played Snider: another abusive lover with control (and probably, mommy) issues. Dorothy Stratten and Linda Lovelace: Eric Roberts helped tell the heartbreaking tale of both of these battered women.

Anyway, for all of half number two, the celebratory veil is lifted off the proceedings. The real truth starts to peek out from behind the curtain, slowly, but surely. “Lovelace” makes sure that the character of Chuck Traynor does NOT come across as a well-meaning and supporting partner in the end.

That being said, the events in BOTH halves of the film, are supposed to be told from two, very different sides, but I don’t find them to be different enough. Except for a few behind-the-scenes moments (of which, there were about two or three that I saw coming from a mile away), both Chuck’s and Linda’s viewpoints are pretty much the same

Linda Lovelace/Boreman/Marchiano and Chuck Traynor

The Real Linda and Chuck. Eh, close enough.

Like I said before, there wasn’t enough focus on the motivations behind the characters choices (especially on Chuck’s behalf). All they seemed to do is acknowledge that something off-kilter was going on, but didn’t take enough time to tell us what that “something” was. Chuck seemed so one-dimensional at times and without Sarsgaard’s brilliant portrayal, Chuck would’ve been paper thin. It was as if Chuck was a huge bag of formulaic dialogue and fixed perspective – almost like the character was fictional… but he wasn’t. All in all, let’s file it under: “wasted opportunity.” In this case, the opportunity was to go from good film to great film.

It’s really a shame. With such a solid cast, all with outstanding pedigree, this should have been much more superior than it was. Below, is a list of amazing talent (some more talented than others, but I digress) that was absolutely wasted during the production of this film…

Chole Sevigny: Played a reporter that had all of two lines – are you friends with the director. James Franco: we already talked about his wasted film credit. Juno Temple: Started out strong, character faded out of focus fast. Sharon Stone: Fantastic performance… for all of a handful of scenes – with a few more bright moments, we might be talking Oscar dark horse. Wes Bentley: See Chloe Sevigny. Even Sandy Martin (Charlie Day’s chain-smoking Mom on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”): She’s always funny and I didn’t even realize she played a “ticket taker” in it, until just this second. If you add all of these actors/actresses up, that is one steaming pile of disappointment for fans of solid craftsmanship.

But what is “Lovelace” other than one missed opportunity after another. On every level, this film has glaring omissions that jut out like sharp,

Pulling up to the X-rated theater

There used to be a porn theater in Center City, Philly – on like 22nd and Chestnut, or something like that. It was not this nice.

rusty nails. It tried to use an interesting concept – where two, separate perspectives would be brought together as one, singular vision – and turned it into just another film that used the funny clothes, the loose morals, and the hard drugs of the 1970s as a cheap diversion tactic.

Actually, this “miss” hurts more than it usually dues, due to the importance that a story such as this might have to millions of women, who have all been to hell and back, just like Linda Marchiano.

The problem is, that the filmmakers are so enamored with Linda Lovelace, that by the time they introduce us to the courageous Mrs. Marchiano… we’re too worn out to care.

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