Review: “Lovelace” is Grim and Hard to Watch, But Often Compelling

LOVELACE-1-jpg_210713

I reviewed the Linda Lovelace biopic cleverly titled “Lovelace” for the Buffalo News, and found it a mixed success. It is certainly not a major triumph, but if you can handle the subject matter, it’s worth watching. I gave it 2 ½ stars.

Did Walter Cronkite say a word that — as “Seinfeld” fans recall — is a female body part that rhymes with a woman’s name on the nightly news? After all, a clip in the film “Lovelace” shows us that Cronkite did indeed report on “Deep Throat,” the infamous 1972 pornographic film smash that became a punch line for Johnny Carson and Bob Hope, and provided a suitable pseudonym for a certain Watergate whistleblower.

My question goes unanswered in “Lovelace,” the story of used, abused “Deep Throat” star Linda Lovelace, and, quite frankly, I’m glad it does. Hearing “the most trusted man in America” make even a passing reference to “Deep Throat” is unnerving yet intriguing, like hearing Queen Elizabeth read aloud from the “Kama Sutra.” (Make that just unnerving.)

Unnerving yet intriguing — that is also an apt description for “Lovelace,” a grim, compelling film directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

It never approaches the heights of the directors’ documentary work (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “The Celluloid Closet”), and it never surprises the viewer with shocking insight. But as a set-the-record-straight chronicle of how the “poster girl for the sexual revolution” was taken advantage of and almost destroyed, the film succeeds.

Amanda Seyfried portrays the starlet with the proper mix of kindness, vulnerability and despair. (Interestingly, Lindsay Lohan was slated to star in a competing biopic, one that, like so many Lohan projects, and the actress herself, crashed and burned.)

Linda Lovelace (she died in 2002) became internationally recognized for her role in the film. For much of it, she is an intentionally blank slate, a wide-eyed Florida girl under the thumb of a domineering mother (a frumpy, barely recognizable Sharon Stone).

Typically, she soon meets a moustached, muscle-shirt-clad scary monster, Chuck Traynor. He’s played by super-creep Peter Sarsgaard, an actor who is frightening playing good guys; playing a jerk, he’s downright disturbing. “What are you so uptight about?” is his perennially clueless question.

Traynor soon brings Linda into a world of sloppy, homemade porn and greasy-haired sleaze-mongers, resulting in the higher-scale production of “Deep Throat.” Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale play the film’s driving forces as relatively good-natured horndogs; “Dat’s art, baby!” shouts Azaria’s director, Gerard Damiano.

In fact, the whole making-of comes with nary a protest, and is shot with the “wink-wink” haze that, sadly, usually accompanies stories of “Deep Throat,” that oh-so-wacky porno that even grandma could chuckle over.

This sense of naughty fun turns out to be a nice bit of posturing from Epstein and Friedman. Following the film’s production and its success (James Franco plays Hugh Hefner, by way of James Franco), we jump ahead six years.

Now, Linda is taking a polygraph test at the behest of her book publisher. She is telling all about the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of Traynor, who forcibly pushed her into the film, and even pimped her out. It is no wonder Lovelace’s memoir was titled “Ordeal.”

We head back in time once more to Linda’s pre-“Deep Throat” days, and see, from her point of view, how nightmarish her life was, and how much worse it turned after the film became a $600 million-grossing (!) cross-cultural smash. (She was paid just $1,250 for the role.)

For all that “Lovelace” does right, it never quite breaks a feeling of déjà vu, thanks to similarly themed sideburn-fuzzy looks at ’70s porn culture like “Boogie Nights,” the dreary “Wonderland,” the 2005 documentary “Inside Deep Throat,” and even Bob Fosse’s “Star 80.”

That aesthetic exhaustion, coupled with the utter bleakness of Lovelace’s abuse, makes the film hard to watch, and tough to recommend. But if it takes away some of the phony humor that is usually associated with “Deep Throat,” and instead forever makes Linda Lovelace’s ordeal an essential part of the story, then it has accomplished something undeniably important.

Photo from Buffalo News review

Weekend Preview: Sci-Fi, Strippers, Hallucinogens, Porn, Ultraviolence, Talking Aircraft, and Greek Gods

elysium1

I’m not sure there has been a more wildly diverse weekend for movies this summer, although I have a feeling I’ve said that before. There is big-budget, socially conscious science fiction (“Elysium”), an R-rated comedy (“We’re the Millers”), an odd Pixar-spinoff from Disney (“Planes”), a porn-star biopic (“Lovelace”), a strange, brutally violent revenge story set in Thailand (“Only God Forgives”), a story of a quest to find a Chilean hallucinogen (“Crystal Fairy”), and a kid-lit sequel about a teenager/Greek god (“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”).

It’s a strange mix, really, and I find myself with little to say about most of it. I could care less about “Millers” (Jennifer Aniston continues her stellar march to big screen greatness), “Planes” (Disney tries Pixar, minus Pixar?), and “Percy Jackson” (the Chris Columbus-directed first film evaporated from my brain within seconds of viewing). Michael Cera stole “This is the End,” so I am curious about “Crystal Fairy,” but it has not really intrigued me yet.

“Elysium” is perhaps the must-see of the group. I was one of the few folks in America who did not like “District 9,” Neil Blomkamp’s ugly sci-fi smash, but I did admire its ideas and rough-around-the-edges aesthetic. I love the idea of seeing what he can do with lots of money, studio backing, and star-power (Matt Damon and Jodie Foster).

Response so far has been very mixed, but I am hopeful. I would expect it to spend one week on the top of the box office, but I fear it will underwhelm commercially. Like “Pacific Rim,” whether the movie interests you or not, we should all want big movies from unique directors to fare well. We need more Del Toros and Blomkamps.

I reviewed Linda Lovelace biopic “Lovelace” for the Buffalo News, and I’d call mine a mixed but slightly positive verdict; I gave it 2 ½ stars, and considered 3, but it’s very grim (intentionally, of course) and not all that insightful (especially after “Inside Deep Throat”). Yet much of it works, and as I explain in the review, it succeeds in showing why the success of “Deep Throat” should not always be viewed with a giggle. The circumstances for its star were awful, and that is clear after watching “Lovelace.”

Then, of course, there is “Only God Forgives,” which I wrote about a few weeks ago. It’s still a tricky one for me; I’m glad I was not reviewing it, since I still find it fascinating, absurd, and very, very difficult.

So invariably, there is SOMETHING of interest for everyone this weekend. Outside of the multiplex, The Screening Room offers “Murder on the Orient Express” — why not? — at 7:30 on Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday (August 14);

Bacchus has the great “Moneyball” on Wednesday (August 14); the UB North Campus shows two recent hits, “Iron Man 3” and “Fast & Furious 6,” at 8:45 on Friday and Tuesday (August 13), respectively; and UB South Campus features “Furious” at 8:45 on Wednesday (August 7).

Note also that David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” has arrived on VOD, and a number of interesting picks — “Drinking Buddies,” “The Canyons,” and this week’s “Crystal Fairy,” “Only God Forgives,” and “Lovelace” — can also be enjoyed at home. What is especially cool is that David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” one of the most acclaimed films of the year, will be available on August 23. I’ll be watching.

Photo from “Elysium”s official site