Lovelace: Biopic of First Porn Star (Deep Throat)

As directed by documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, “Lovelace,” the biopic of the first porn star, Linda Lovelace,” is a mediocre biopic that covers the basic facts, but fails to illuminate the real-life woman, who became a star with the bold and audacious “Deep Throat.”

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World-premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Fest, “Lovelace” divided critics sharply, and the same will happen August 9, when Radius-Weinstein, which picked up the film at Sundance, release it theatrically.

“Lovelace” was made with the cooperation of the estate of Linda Lovelace, but it’s unclear what this cooperation made. As scripted by Andy Bellin (“Trust”), the movie definitely takes the POV of its protagonist and relates all the events from her subjective perspective.

Sharply uneven, the tale begins well before escalating into a strangely disappointing film, a hybrid of a conventional TV Movie of the Week and a lurid, titillating exploitation B-picture that goes on and on with depicting the abuse and betrayal of its protagonist by all those around her, including puritanical parents, ruthless husband, and various managers.

In its good moments, which are few, the picture borrows from Paul Thomas Anderson’s seminal movie, “Boogie Nights,” an epic tale of the porn industry in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Lovelace is set earlier, in 1972, during the sexual revolution, but before the age of the VCR Revolution, the Internet, and the porn explosion. As a movie, “Deep Throat” represented a unique phenomenon: It was the first scripted pornographic theatrical film, featuring a story (well, sort of a story), some jokes, and an unknown and unlikely star, Linda Lovelace.

Who was Linda Lovelace?

Escaping a strict religious family, Linda discovered freedom and the high-life, when she fell for and married the charismatic hustler Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).

As Linda Lovelace, she soon became an international sensation—less centerfold fantasy than a charming girl-next-door with an impressive capacity for fellatio.

The movie would like us to believe that she fully inhabiting her new identity, and as such, became an enthusiastic spokesperson for sexual freedom and uninhibited hedonism. But the evidence of the screen, especially as played by Amanda Seyfried, points to the fact that with the exception of the first or two years of being a celeb, she never felt comfortable and never completely embraced a role that was largely assigned to her and at time even imposed on her.

The text jumps back and forth in time, resulting in a shapeless narrative, marred by a structure that makes it impossible for the viewers to get a real understanding of who Linda was and what accounted for her radical transformation.

Six years later, Linda presented another, utterly contradictory, narrative to the world, showing herself to be a victim of abusive and psychotic husband, and herself as the survivor of a far darker story.

At least one reel of the short text is set in the late 1970s, when Linda was 28, depicting her as a happily married housewife with children, who has clean out her act and has published a book titled “Ordeal,” and doing the rounds (Donahue Show and others) to promote the book.

Despite major shortcomings, “Linda Lovelace” is a notch above Epstein and Friedman’s previous film, their feature debut “Howl,” a misfire in capturing the essence of the life of Allen Ginsburg, the late gay Jewish poet.

But ultimately, the film is disappointingly lurid, schematic and shallow, representing yet another version of the rise and fall structure that marks so many Hollywood showbiz stories, a young, naïve girl from a small town who rises to fame quickly–based on one or two specific skills–and then falls down rapidly.

As a directing team, Epstein and Friedman, have made some distinguished documentaries: COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT, which made Americans understand that there was no such thing as a deserving AIDS victim, to adapting Vito Russo’s groundbreaking study of the evolution of gay stereotypes in Hollywood movies in THE CELLULOID CLOSET, to examining the lives of homosexuals in Germany before and during the Third Reich in PARAGRAPH 175. But judging by Howl and LOVELACE, feature films may call for a different set of skills which the duo has not mastered yet.