More like an "HBO films" production rather than a big Hollywood to-do, the new biopic "Lovelace" is a well-told and compelling tale of damaged people hurting each other amidst the sexual politics of the '70s. It's a film about one of the most famous women of that decade, and how she used that fame to assist in the rise of feminism.
That woman was Linda Lovelace. Famous for starring in "Deep Throat" -- the most popular (and mainstream) porn film ever made -- Linda became an overnight sensation. But the film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("Howl," "The Celluloid Closet") doesn't just illuminate the time she spent in porn (17 days), but goes back to Linda's early years as a young, prudish girl with a domineering mother (an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and a neutered father (Robert Patrick).
Linda (Amanda Seyfried) spends her days hanging out with her best friend (Juno Temple) sunbathing and going to roller-skating rinks. There, she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), an older guy who quickly charms her and eventually wins over her parents.
After coming home late one night, much to the disdain of her mother, she moves in with Chuck. Soon enough, the two are married. But when money problems surface, and after he learns that Linda is particularly proficient at a specific sexual act, he essentially pimps her out to porn producer friends of his. Linda is reluctant, but she's also been taught by her mother that she should obey her husband. So, off she goes to star in an adult film, and...a star is born.
But what seems fairly benign is turned on its head half-way through the film when we see a dowdier Linda six years later taking a lie detector test for a publisher for whom she's writing an autobiography. The reason? Her rise to stardom was not what it seemed. Here, the filmmakers jump back in time and repeat certain scenes, but show them from a more truthful angle. And that's when we see just how badly Linda was treated both physically and emotionally. We also are witness to her eventual rise out of it all.
To be fair, what we are seeing on screen isn't all that unfamiliar, and none of what happens is all that surprising. That said, it is still upsetting and disturbing. Despite Linda's escape from Chuck and the industry, this is not a feel-good movie. Epstein and Friedman's documentary-style approach also makes it dryly realistic. They step back from what is happening to show it for our analysis and consumption, but they rarely comment on it with any sort of flourish.
Someone like Scorsese might have made a more electric film from this material; that isn't to say this is a bad movie, but it's not all that memorable. What is memorable is Linda's story and the performances it engenders.
There is an all-star cast here, but truth be told, most of the players are on screen for barely even a minute. Chloe Sevingy is listed as a "female journalist" and is in one shot. Wes Bentley as a photographer has a nice scene, but he's onscreen for maybe two minutes. Eric Roberts has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo.
The most notable secondary characters are Stone and Patrick as Linda's parents. Stone is as icy and domineering as she can be, even adopting a different gait that makes her as far from her previous sex-symbol days as the role can take her. Patrick seems a bit reserved at first, but that quality brings about a sadly touching moment later on in the film.
This is Sarsgaard and Seyfried's picture all the way. Sarsgaard is effectively slimy and unpredictable, creating a truly dangerous character that is at once reprehensible but diabolically charming.
Seyfried is a revelation. She drops the adorable cuteness she is so often hired to portray and finally lets audiences see just how good an actress she really is. She portrays both vulnerability and a strength that we have yet to really see in previous characters. Hers is a riveting performance, and should finally shoot her into a different class of actors.
"Lovelace" isn't going to change the landscape of biopics, but it's still a fascinating look into a woman that became the face of the sexual revolution and then the face of women's liberation. It's an intimate look inside an industry that has (admittedly) changed over the years, but certainly knows how to use and abuse its stars. She was the first true porn star, even though she made one film that paid her a mere $1,250. The film made $600 million. Enough said.