Aug 12, 2013
Amanda Seyfried acts her heart out in this unconvincing, uninspired movie about Linda Lovelace, the star of Deep Throat, the most successful porn movie ever. Even though the film has a great cast, led by Seyfried and a spectacularly creepy Peter Sarsgaard, this woman remains a blank. And it is not Seyfried's fault. The movie, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, and written by Andy Bellin, starts buoyantly enough as Lovelace meets Chuck Traynor, a sleazebag you can spot 10 miles away. She's 21 but lives cloistered with her strict parents, (Sharon Stone, good in a distracting wig, and Robert Patrick, excellent) and seems to be a virginal little angel. At first all is great fun as Traynor seduces her with promises of stardom. Even her parents are impressed with him, although you want to take a shower just from looking in his direction. He teaches her the notorious ropes that gained her instant fame: Deep Throat, for those of you who don't know, is about a woman whose clitoris is in the back of her larynx.
The problem is in the writing. The movie tells us a lot of stuff, but it doesn't show it, so Linda's character remains hermetic. It is hard to understand what she saw in the sleazy Traynor and why she stayed with him through his abuse: she may have the textbook signs of abused women in general, but as a dramatic character she has little agency. Except for her choice to move in with this creep, she does not propel the story; everything happens to her. Hence she remains, despite Seyfried's excellent efforts, an inscrutable blank.
I enjoyed the first part of the movie, a fun sidetrip through roller skating rinks and bonfires on the beach, a great period soundtrack, and flawless period detail. We get to meet the more genial sleazebags that made that porno: who doesn't want to be in the same room with Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, sporting the most outrageous rug ever, the always welcome Debi Mazar and Chris Noth? Everybody seems to be super nice to Linda at the shoot and she becomes an instant sensation. But then we see her years later, looking lost, taking a polygraph test, and the movie goes back to scenes we've already seen and adds what was happening behind the scenes with the abusive Traynor. This is a strange choice, not only because the scene repetitions are awkward, but because there is no tension between her fairy tale success and the brutal reality Lovelace was living at the same time. Not only is it all re-told after the fact, but it gives the movie an unwanted moralistic subtext, as if it was bad karma for Lovelace to become the most famous porn star ever. It starkly divides her good times from the bad, instead of keeping them mixed, which would have made for a more powerful, richer story.
For a far more nuanced, colorful and fascinating take on the subject, the documentary Inside Deep Throat explores what this movie totally wastes, which is the cultural context of the times. Deep Throat was unique in that it had a fabulous hook, and it was conceived by director Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) as an artistic endeavor, with humor and actors and creativity, of sorts. Paradoxically, it was both a symbol of sexual freedom and an exploitative prison for her protagonist. Made for $25,000, it went on to gross $600 million dollars, of which neither Lovelace or Damiano ever saw much profit, and most of which went to the mob that financed it. It became a phenomenon the minute the Nixon administration decided to persecute it.
It is unfortunate that Lovelace leaves out all this rich cultural history about the sexual revolution, Watergate, censorship, the rise of the religious right and feminism in favor of the most commonplace and tawdry aspects of the story. It does not know what to make of Linda Lovelace and her confounding willfulness, acquiescence and victimization, and it squanders other great characters, like Damiano, a sweet guy who thought porn movies could one day be classy, and who made the most profitable film of all time.