Reel Women: ‘Lovelace’ is a Slight Biopic About a Woman Who Was Anything But
In the first half hour of ‘Lovelace,’ the biopic of legendary porn star Linda Lovelace (aka Linda Boreman) directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film is as bubbly as Lovelace’s notorious porn film, ‘Deep Throat.’ There’s something cute, albeit slight, about this version of events — unfortunately, the last hour of the film remains just as slight in its interpretation of the “facts.”
I say “facts” in quotes with respect to Linda Boreman, who claimed — in various autobiographical texts — that she was forced to perform, not only in ‘Deep Throat,’ but in several other short, 8mm pornography films, including one in which she fornicated with a dog. Boreman says her husband, Chuck Traynor, beat and raped her, and literally held a gun to her head to get her to do what he wanted, which included starring in ‘Deep Throat’ and allowing several men to have sex with her (sometimes all at the same time) in exchange for money.
There is nothing slight about Boreman’s accusations, which were proven true by a polygraph test (a debatable tool of measuring one’s honesty, but there it is), and while some question her motives (she earned only $1,250 from ‘Deep Throat,’ which grossed over $600 million at the box office), it’s hard to question her earnest depiction of what she endured at the hands of her husband. There are two sides to every story — what he says, and what she says, and somewhere hanging in the space between those two sides is a third side to the story; the true story.
‘Lovelace’ attempts to examine that objective third side of Boreman’s story by employing a clever maneuver: the first half hour is about how Boreman (Amanda Seyfried, giving a lovely, nuanced performance) met Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard, devouring the scenery), they got married, and she happily made ‘Deep Throat.’ There are obvious hints about what’s going on behind closed doors, like with the bruising on Linda’s legs, but it’s all fun and games because she made a porno and Hugh Hefner was very supportive.
The last hour takes us back and shows us the real deal: Chuck beat Linda, had violent sex with her, forced her to have sex with other men, forced her to appear in porn, and intimidated her into submission. But while the slightness in the first half hour is appropriate to highlight the falsity of the basic making-of ‘Deep Throat’ story, it’s anything but appropriate in the final hour, when we witness Linda suffer at the hands of almost every man she meets. Only the scene in a hotel room, in which Linda is sold into a gang-bang scenario, has anything resembling tension and a hint of the true fear the real Linda must have felt.
This isn’t to say that I — or any viewer, I should hope — desire to see more violent acts against women depicted in film, but the film’s switch-up to take us back in time and tell the real story works both for and against it, setting a tone that feels almost as much a novelty as ‘Deep Throat’ was itself. Actors dress in 70s garb, sport thick mustaches, and deliver kitschy performances reminiscent of the era of polyester, but the film is ultimately too pre-occupied with creating that bait and switch and reveling in the levity of the first act to really focus its effort on the gravity of Linda’s situation. And like most biopics, this one suffers from Cliff’s Notes disease, skipping merrily through Linda’s life, highlighting only the sections which it deems important, and leaving out the stuff that makes a biopic work: the details and specificity, the emotions of a person we could never know made visceral and real.
‘Lovelace’ seems afraid to do the dirty work, shying away from the violence as much as it shies away from the explicit sex. It’s a breezy trip through the life of a woman whose life few — if any — would describe as such.
No one wants to see more violent acts against women depicted in film or television, but when dealing with the facts as Boreman saw them in a film that is based on real events, the filmmakers do her a disservice by pulling on kid gloves to tell her story. This isn’t about how much they show us, it’s about how we see what they show us, and when dealing with acts of violence, the tone is ultimately key — unfortunately, Epstein and Friedman, who have given us stirring documentaries like ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ and ‘Paragraph 175,’ don’t quite pin down anything close to how Boreman must have felt. We need to be able to identify with the subject of a biopic, or else we’re just mindlessly browsing through her life like it’s the latest issue of Vogue.
The story of Linda Lovelace and Linda Boreman is complicated, but unfortunately only Amanda Seyfried seems to understand and identify with her, not just as a character or a caricature, but as a human being. A good biopic could help us do the same.