Within the first, luridly-colourful minutes of Lovelace, Juno Temple’s grabbing the reluctant hands of best friend Linda Boreman and dragging her along to the roller-disco. Temple clambers onstage with the band and starts dancing, throwing her hips and pushing her arms high into the air. She loves the music, the atmosphere, the men and women skating around below her. Linda is shy, looking uncomfortable, as though she’s desperately trying to have a good time but would rather be under the covers with a cup of tea and a good book.
By the end of this biopic, I’m still confused as to why she wasn’t. Linda Lovelace is an unformed character in this strangely uncomplicated conception of an extremely complicated life. There’s no sense of what drives her, what her motivations are, and how she eventually climbed out of the abusive clutches of the mob-led porn industry to become one of its biggest challengers.
Unlike the wonderful smorgasbord that was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights in ’97, this film doesn’t cut to the core of anything it attempts to depict. Sure, the costumes and decor are well-done, but the script is limp and simplistic, and presents events without analysing them. The repressed Catholic 22 year-old with a peculiar talent for fellatio is hidden behind stock montages of her doe-eyed, seemingly seamless rise to fame with the release of the 1972 porn-flick Deep Throat. I could never get a sense of whether Linda (Amanda Seyfried) knew exactly which way the wind was blowing when the creeping tendrils of Chuck Traynor (an excellent Peter Sarsgaard) began to work their charm upon her. Seyfried presents Linda as too naive, too innocent – even as she’s claiming on-screen that she’s got one of those rare clitorises found at the back of the throat, and would the kind doctor help her out, please?
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are no strangers to the task of taking high-profile people and events and re-examining them (see the 2010 Howl about the obscenity trial of Allen Ginsburg). But in this they miss the mark, grappling with a lazy script that doesn’t make explicit comment on the porn industry itself, just sort of slops it, balls and all, onto a dirty plate and says, ‘there you go’.
There’s an extent to which the narrative doubling-back within Lovelace goes some way to explaining the similarly dual narrative at work within the star’s career: a timespan which, tragically, only allows Linda to see the light long after the event. Mid-way through the film, the glitz and glamour of Hugh Heffner’s mansion is replaced by a wan-looking Lovelace, proving six years later through polygraph testing that her version of events for upcoming memoir ‘Ordeal’ (1980) proves accurate. A party scene shot from a hotel balcony sees raucous cast and crew members giggling over the screams coming from the next door room, and you smile fondly in recognition at the can’t-keep-your-hands-off-one-another-even-at-a-party passion of the lead pair. Later, those screams are translated into a murkier, more sinister language as we witness Traynor throwing his wife across the room, his fury and physicality making him doubly, leaping-off-the-screen intimidating. These moments of domestic abuse and coercion make for horrendous viewing, and it can be hard to watch such things and provide a critique that doesn’t simply pity Lovelace and revile Traynor.
The film’s refusal to document the ‘next part’ of her life is unacceptable: that is, the great escape, the feminist alliance created with such figures as Gloria Steinem and Catharine MacKinnon. Boreman’s role in the ‘Women Against Pornography’ movement is swept under the plaid 70s rug and dismissed. This is because otherwise, the film lacks that oh-so-tired arc of the good woman turned bad and then happily redeemed. The directors of Lovelace don’t want Linda to be ‘problematic’ so the ranting and raging, the victim turned victor model, is off the cards. In its last scenes, the film depicts the newly-modelled Linda Marchiano, happily-married and serving her husband and young son in a small kitchen. She’s got her book deal, and she’s heading to a chat show to publicise it. One of the audience members staggers to their feet to tell Lovelace that she doesn’t buy the new image, and that such a transformation just isn’t credible. How can someone who used to suck cock on camera be truly ‘redeemed’? And in a sense they’re right: the new persona wasn’t credible because the old one never existed. By refusing to examine Linda Lovelace from anything other than a pitiable fool who made wrong decisions, it becomes impossible to demonstrate her later strength and so she is, once more, silenced.
The film needs a person, not a beleaguered, heart-shaped mouth, and by refusing the later activism of someone who really was in the best position to comment, it denies the redemptive aspects of Lovelace’s life and the phoenix its rebirth, leaving it floundering in cooling ashes. It’s this little-girl-lost trope that had me pissed off by the end, with directors who fail to see the grey in a grand colour scheme and focus on age-old cliches to make a black-and-white crowd-pleaser. There’s not enough analysis here – of men, of women, of 1970s America, of parenting, of religion, of ‘morality’ – of that all-important stuff that makes a person. There’s too much innocence here for a film about blowjobs.
Lovelace is currently playing in UK cinemas, rating 18.