Friday 20 January 2017

Movie Review: Lovelace (2013)

The sad story of the porn industry's first celebrity, Lovelace is cautionary tale of exploitation and abuse. The film is cleverly constructed but lacks any emotional breakthroughs.

It's 1970 in Florida, and 20 year old Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is living with her oppressive parents Dorothy and John (Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick). Her rebellion is enabled by the sleazy and much older Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), who claims to maybe own a strip joint. Soon they get married, Chuck teaches Linda all about oral sex, and she is remarkably good at it. Claiming money pressure, Chuck pressures Linda into the pornography industry and Lovelace is created.

They connect with producers Anthony Romano (Chris Noth) and "Butchie" Peraino (Bobby Canavale), director Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria) and co-star Harry Reems (Adam Brody). Over a matter of six days in 1972, Damiano films Deep Throat, a relatively artistic porn film capitalizing on Linda's abilities. The film becomes an unexpected breakout hit among mainstream audiences and helps to kick-off the porno chic trend. Linda becomes a household name and travels in celebrity circles, including a meeting with Playboy's Hugh Hefner (James Franco). But behind the surface glamour there is a very dark side to Linda's life involving rampant abuse by the domineering Chuck.

Co-directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Lovelace is a worthwhile companion piece to Boogie Nights. While the Paul Thomas Anderson film rides the breezy waves of pornography's golden era, Lovelace dives beneath the surface to poke at the visible bruises. Lovelace is too emotionally detached and conflicted in its messaging to be the better film, but it nevertheless places on record the horrific price paid by the performers exploited to serve a sordid industry.

As for the film, Epstein and Friedman do try something different. The first half breezes through Lovelace's rapid transition from rebellious young woman to porn celebrity. There are hints suggesting the hell created by Traynor, but without details. The second half retraces some of the same steps and fills in the blanks, exposing the oppressive brutality of his treatment and the degradation she faced. It's a thought provoking structure forcing a comparison between public image and private agony, but Lovelace also emerges as an unbalanced film, hitting discordant notes and mainly moving sideways.

The denouement shifts focus to Linda years after her brief foray into the industry, fighting to reclaim her dignity and identity by publishing a book. It's another shift in cinematic gears, and while the loop is closed, the film is tonally fragmented.

Lovelace delivers one devastating scene, in the least expected context. At her lowest point Linda flees back to her childhood home, and her encounter with her mother is a study of the void exposed by mutually unmet expectations.

Amanda Seyfried displays excellent breadth to convey first adventurous naiveté and then a gradual awakening to abuse. Peter Sarsgaard is fully committed to the role of Chuck Traynor, and sustains the required menace.

Lovelace tells an important story with competence but at the expense of dramatic flair.

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