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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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'Deep Throat's' Lovelace, And The Linda She Used To Be

Aug 8, 2013
Originally published on August 9, 2013 11:25 am

Cinema routinely peddles images of beautiful people in romantic situations, not to mention gauzily idealized visions of passion and intimacy. So it's a little counterintuitive when filmmakers depict sex as perilous — even when that's exactly what they've signed up to do.

This reluctance hobbles Lovelace, the saga of the late Linda Lovelace, star of the epochal Deep Throat. In 1972, when that movie premiered, she seemed to embody a new ease about sex. But years later, after the film had become both a hit and a multipurpose metaphor, Lovelace returned to the public eye to denounce her former career and the ex-husband who'd arranged it.

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, whose Howl took an artier approach to an artier cultural watershed, attempt to give both Lindas equal weight by telling the story twice. But that just makes it seem as if they can't make up their minds. And since the two parts aren't that different in tone or style, Lovelace mostly plays like a standard biopic.

In the first half, naive Florida go-go dancer Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) discovers love, porn and celebrity. After making Deep Throat — not her first sex flick, although this movie doesn't mention that — the newly renamed Linda Lovelace romps through the sexual revolution. It's like Boogie Nights with a tighter music budget.

Then the filmmakers jump to Lovelace's moment of truth (or half-truth, according to her detractors). She's hooked to a polygraph machine and questioned, in order to reassure the publisher of her revisionist 1980 memoir, Ordeal.

The movie rewinds to tell a story that includes the harsh realities — well, some of them — that Lovelace previously hadn't revealed. The second version offers good reason for the porn star's earlier lack of candor: her fear of husband and manager Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard, who's game but not quite threatening enough).

In Boogie Nights and the recent The Look of Love, cheerful porn makers succumb finally not to second thoughts, but to drugs. Lovelace follows what is, sadly, a more common narrative: the case of the battered wife, held in thrall by love, terror and a lack of other options. When Lovelace seeks shelter with her old-school Catholic mother, well played by Sharon Stone, she's told that divorce is not an option: "What do you think we are, Protestant?"

By Lovelace's 1980 account, she was beaten and bullied into becoming the girl-next-door porn star. Traynor peddled her freckles, brown hair and unaugmented breasts to veteran X-rated-film director Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria), who was initially dubious. What made Lovelace a contender was an unusual pharyngeal aptitude, which she (and the movie) attribute to Traynor's hypnotizing her.

Arriving at just the right moment, Deep Throat became an unexpectedly above-ground sensation, grossing perhaps $600 million for its mob-connected backers (impersonated here by Bobby Cannavale and Chris Noth). Traynor got little of the take, which made him even more abusive. In this telling, he pimps his famous wife for cash, although such celebs as Hugh Hefner (James Franco) expect a firsthand demonstration of her technique for free.

Largely excluded from Lovelace are its namesake's embrace of Christianity and anti-porn feminism. Chloe Sevigny's role as a sympathetic journalist is fleeting, and Sarah Jessica Parker's reported turn as Gloria Steinem didn't make the film's final cut.

A 90-minute biography can't include everything, of course. But Lovelace comes on like an inquiry into the '70s zeitgeist, only to retreat into melodrama. Ultimately, the movie relies as heavily as any porn feature on its intrepid female lead. Rather than exploiting Seyfried, however, Lovelace just sort of wastes her.

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