Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Chloë Sevigny, James Franco, Debi Mazar, Wes Bentley, Eric Roberts, Ron Pritchard | Written by Andy Bellin | Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Amanda Seyfried, arguably best known for her wide-eyed performances in films such as Mean Girls and Mama Mia!, is perhaps not who you might expect to be cast as Linda Lovelace in a serious and confrontational film about spousal abuse. Defying expectations, however, is usually a good thing.
Lovelace is a different film to what you might expect based on its poster campaign, which seems to suggest a frothy, saucy take on the subject matter and you might be forgiven for viewing the film in this way for its first half. Linda is introduced as a fairly shy young woman, who gets mixed up with a very unpleasant man in the form of Peter Sarsgaard’s Chuck Traynor. Traynor’s financial misfortune sees him coerce Linda into appearing in what would go on to become the infamous Deep Throat. The film is made and Linda appears thrilled to be interviewed, photographed and generally lauded, culminating in a gala screening of the film hosted by Hugh Hefner (James Franco) in Hollywood.
At this point, the film effectively starts over, showing the same events from Linda’s point of view. Sex scenes become violent ordeals, Traynor’s pushiness becomes aggressive bullying and ‘coercion’ becomes ‘forced at gunpoint’. The first time around we understand Traynor to be a horrible, manipulative creep. On the second, he’s a monstrous rapist who prostitutes his own wife.
What is clever about Lovelace is its attempt to make the viewer complicit in the crimes it depicts – by showing the light side of events first, you’re lured into thinking that while the events portrayed may not be good, they aren’t happening wholly against the will of the protagonist. The brutal second half dispels any notion of this utterly.
Seyfried and Sarsgaard should be commended for delivering two very controlled and impressive performances – it’s surprising that the film isn’t being released closer to Oscar season in order to cash in on these. Franco’s portrayal of Hefner is surprisingly cutting, given he is one of the most high profile real life figures still alive involved in the story. The film can be read as being very critical of the porn industry. Whatever your thoughts on it, it’s hard to deny that something is very wrong with an industry where the people doing the hard work are paid the least amount of money. Or maybe that’s just the socialist in me. Lovelace demonstrates this, showing the pittance Linda received for her role in Deep Throat whilst the sleazy men behind the cameras trousered millions.
For all the abuses Linda suffers, the most heart-breaking scene has to be a late night phone call between the young woman and her father. Linda’s relationship with her parents – particularly with her mother (an unrecognisable and coldly terrifying Sharon Stone) – is not good and the film’s narrative focuses on the possibility of a resolution. The phone call depicts the relationship at its lowest point, with John Boreman (Robert Patrick) totally without understanding how his daughter has gotten into her situation, powerless to help and wracked with grief and guilt because of it. It’s powerful stuff and indicative of the film’s strengths: great performances, challenging subject matter and a very human emotional centre.