Movies About Porn Shouldn't Be This Boring: 'Lovelace' Edition

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The just-debuted biopic about the Deep Throat star squanders the potential of its subject matter's with shallow storytelling.

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Millennium Films

At Tuesday night's Sundance premiere of their new biographical drama Lovelace, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman said that they hoped their film would "fill in a crucial gap in the legacy of Linda Lovelace: her humanity." It's a noble goal, given that it's so easy to see Deep Throat's star in binary: either a porn icon (as she was after the film's wildly successful 1972 release) or an antiporn crusader (which she became with the publication of her 1980 autobiography Ordeal). Trouble is, Epstein and Friedman's biopic barely goes any deeper, avoiding the tough questions about her life in favor of an easy either/or scenario.

The film's first act plays like a half-hearted Boogie Nights Xerox (with some of the same music cues, even). Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried), a bored Florida girl, falls in love with Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), an older man with an oily charm and a sketchy side. They eventually marry, but when money gets tight, Chuck talks Linda into trying porn acting. A vehicle is built around her particular gift for fellatio; it's called Deep Throat, and its unexpected success makes its star (rechristened Linda Lovelace) into a household name.

Much of this first act is played as backstage comedy, exploiting the low production values of a porn shoot and the shady characters populating it (embodied entertainingly by Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, and Chris Noth) for laughs. Once Lovelace becomes a star, however, the film jumps ahead (six years, to a polygraph test regarding claims in Ordeal) and then back again, replaying the events up to and including Deep Throat from an altogether less jovial perspective, in which Linda is the victim of physical abuse and threats of violence.

The Rashomon approach isn't a bad idea, but it does make for jarring cinema; Lovelace ends up swinging wildly from snickering sex comedy to clanging melodrama. But if the former approach allows the film some freedom and funky energy, the latter segues it fully into exactly the kind of dull, garden-variety biopic we've all had quite enough of. All the hallmarks are there: the short signposting scenes, the flat and declamatory dialogue, the ironic jokes (early on, when a girlfriend suggests Linda try oral sex, she immediately squeals, "That's disgusting!"), and the tearful familial drama (her parents, played by Robert Patrick and an astonishingly inept Sharon Stone, weep with dignity to soaring strings as they watch their reformed daughter on Donahue).

The trouble with the film's structure is that it reduces Lovelace's complicated story into two boxes: good-time girl or victim-hostage.

But the trouble with the film's structure is that it reduces Lovelace's complicated story into two boxes (good-time girl or victim/hostage) and stuffs the entire story into one or the other. It's an approach remarkably free of nuance, and one that requires the filmmakers to ignore giant swaths of information—from the hardcore "loops" (including her notorious adventures in bestiality) that she made before Deep Throat to her later charge that "all the feminists and Women Against Pornography—I kind of feel like they used me, too," to her 2001 pictorial in Leg Show magazine. None of these do any harm to her credibility, or negate the experiences that are shown in Lovelace. But they do complicate matters, asking us to regard her story beyond the simplistic frame of the film.

As other writers have noted, Lovelace presented the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of issues, from rape culture to the evolution of pornography. But those are missed opportunities: In its slender 92 minutes, the film barely bothers to deal with the woman herself, much less the broader concerns surrounding her story. Its view of her is so cursory, so focused on sculpting her into a boilerplate Biographical Drama Protagonist, that Lovelace achieves the impossible: It makes Linda Lovelace's story boring.

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Jason Bailey is the film editor at Flavorwire, and has also written for Slate, Salon, and the Village Voice.

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