So, let’s just get the obvious out of the way. Any film based around the porn industry and set in the 1970’s is going to run head first into a comparison with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and it will probably come as no surprise to learn that this is nowhere near as good. However, there is still a lot to like about this biopic of the infamous adult movie star Linda Lovelace.
While the film eases itself in with nods to the era by way of roller-discos, Johnny Carson on the television and questionable fashion, a change of pace midway through reveals the directors intention to channel ‘ What’s Love Got to Do With It’, the 1993 film about Ike and Tina Turner. There are parallels between the working and personal relationships shared by both couples which were ruled by the bullying male played off against the resistant female. In Lovelace, both lead actors are very good while working with roles than are one dimensional. Peter Sarsgaard plays Lovelace’s husband, Chuck Traynor, her vindictive husband when at his best, a sadist and pimp when at his worst. Amanda Siegfried plays the title character, a damaged individual looking to be taken care of but instead finding control and exploitation.
While the two leads are convincing albeit with straightforward roles, the remainder of the cast are split between actors who have had much better roles (Sharon Stone as a uber-catholic mum, James Franco as Hugh Hefner) or a succession of familiar faces from TV eagerly seizing a chance to crossover to the big screen. Unfortunately, the ensemble cast gives the film the feel of a TV movie.
Ultimately though the problems with the film are ones that lie with most biopics. Is it a story that needs to be told? Linda Lovelace is a name which made an impact both within the porn industry and in the mainstream. A documentary on the social impact of her most famous film, Deep Throat was released fairly recently, but the focus of that film remained away from the domestic violence at the heart of the matter. So, the scope to tell the full story is certainly there and there are valuable lessons to be learned.
There is always a question over the truth of a story. A common problem with biopics is the revision of events for dramatic effect and this is certainly a problem here. Linda Lovelace is notorious for being an unreliable witness and the film doesn’t do enough to effectively cover the events of the period with any authority. The film shies away from any facts that paint Lovelace in a negative light, her drug use for example, instead focusing completely on her abuse solely at the hands of her husband. Just when the story seems to be taking hold, a title card is shown which states ‘6 Years Later’. Just a quick read through the internet throws up multiples opinions on the validity of her claims and it’s apparent that the directors found it easier to just erase large chunks of her life rather than re-write history any more that they have already done. The viewer is left in doubt as to how to she made the changes in her own life to establish herself as a suburban housewife and celebrated feminist activist. While that’s not to say that she appears to have suffered horrendously at the hands of Traynor, the film’s main objective is to portray her as a victim in every light. She is shown as a victim of her families strict nature, a victim of the porn industry in every way, financially, physically and mentally and especially again and again, a victim of domestic abuse from the brutal and psychotic Traynor.
So what do we learn from the story. The heavy handed nature of the story telling pulls you away from any major sympathy for Lovelace. It’s the story of one damaged girl and an abusive relationship. It doesn’t say anything about the porn industry or relationships either other than to try and stay away from both and if you need that lesson taught to you, you are already in trouble.
The feeling remains upon viewing this film that there is a warts and all story there to be told but somewhere behind the scenes certain parties are still controlling the public image of Linda Lovelace. However, in light of the release of this film and the previous documentary, I doubt we will ever see a conclusive revision of her life.