Icon or victim? Exploring the depths of one woman’s story
In 1972, Linda Boreman Marchiano, better known by her stage name, Linda Lovelace, spent a sum total of 17 days working on one notorious pornographic film, but the results of that work led her to a lifetime of fame – or, more accurately, infamy. Her story is vividly brought to life in Lovelace, the new film by directors Rob Epstein and Jeremy Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk; Howl) and writer Andy Bellin. They have crafted not only a fascinating psychological drama, but also a brilliant evocation of a bygone era.
Lovelace was only 22 when she made, as Phil Donahue dubbed it, the Gone with the Wind of porn – 1972’s Deep Throat. That movie was the first pornographic film to widely draw mainstream audiences, and grossed over $600 million, of which Lovelace only ever received $1250. How and why that happened is the subject of Lovelace, which opens in 1970 suburban Florida, when young Linda (Amanda Seyfried) first meets her husband and business manager, Chuck Traynor (an appropriately sleazy Peter Sarsgaard). The film spans twelve years in Linda’s life, from the origins of Deep Throat and her ensuing fame to her renunciation of the porn industry via a tell-all book and her new life as a wife, mother, and anti-porn and domestic violence crusader.
Epstein and Friedman have masterfully structured their film in a way that allows the viewer to see the two contrasting perceptions of Linda’s life. The commonly held public view during the height of Deep Throat’s popularity was that Linda was sexually open and free and enjoyed making the film; this notion is contrasted with what she maintained years later (and which was supported by a lie detector test): that she was used, coerced, swindled, and emotionally and physically abused by Traynor and others in the business. The way Friedman and Epstein meld these two opposing realities – often by presenting the exact same scene twice, but from completely different viewpoints – deftly underscores the contradictions in Linda’s public and private lives and personas. Such a structure allows viewers to form their own ideas about whether Linda was a powerful and proud symbol of the sexual revolution, or a victim of a misogynistic industry that preyed on young women. Linda Lovelace died at age 53 in 2002, and, since that time, the elements of her story have been both doubted and confirmed by people who knew her.
The story alone, then, is a compelling enough reason to see the film, but the excellent performances by a veritable who’s who of Hollywood’s top character actors also make the picture worth recommending. Seyfried is exceptional (those who, like me, were disappointed with her mopey, dewy-eyed Cosette in Les Miz will be happy to see her exhibit much more range and depth here), as is Sarsgaard, whose portrayal of a controlling, volatile abuser is chilling. Hank Azaria as Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano, who considers himself not a porn director, but a true artist, Chris Noth and Bobby Cannavale as the film’s tough financial backers, and boy-next-door Adam Brody as Linda’s surprisingly sweet Deep Throat co-star Harry Reems are all great fun to watch. James Franco nearly steals the show as suave Hugh Hefner, and Sharon Stone, virtually unrecognizable, plays Linda’s mother Dorothy with only a tad more softness than Piper Laurie did as the religious zealot mother in Carrie. And even Robert Patrick, as Linda’s strong-but-silent type father, gets a terrific opportunity to prove he can be more than a Terminator robot in an emotionally raw scene with Seyfried that will break your heart.
Finally, the film is shot in a way that mimics the 35-millimeter style of the 1970s porn industry, but the perceived graininess of the picture only adds to the film’s veracity and punch. That technique, combined with the authentic set design, costumes, and hairstyles, exemplifies the filmmakers’ meticulousness at accurately recreating Linda’s world. As for how you choose to perceive Linda’s story, though, that’s for you to decide after you leave the theater.
Lovelace opens in Bay Area theaters today.