“Lovelace” is a film that comes bifurcated, with a big red line down the middle separating its two acts into “The Dream” and “The Bummer.”
In the first act we get the breezy story of Linda Lovelace, star of the 1972 mainstream porn blockbuster “Deep Throat,” the proverbial girl-next-door with average looks and unique sexual prowess who went from unknown to celebrity overnight, becoming the poster girl for the sexual revolution, a “flower” who became “free” by opening up and learning to enjoy sex.
Act two is the story of Linda Boreman, the naive teen who married the wrong guy and was bullied and beaten into pursuing a porn career as Linda Lovelace, of whose pain and fear the world knew nothing as it enjoyed her hardcore performance on-screen. “Deep Throat,” she tells us, was her being raped in front of the camera.
It’s a neat dichotomy, perhaps a little too neat (see the feature on the facing page), because Linda was a contradictory figure whose life during and after celebrity was far messier than the film lets on. Regardless, “Lovelace” is true to the story as Boreman herself related it in her autobiography, “Ordeal,” and it hits home like a punch to the gut.
The first half of “Lovelace” plays like the seedy but kitschy ’70s we’ve seen in such films as “The Ice Storm,” “Boogie Nights” and “American Hustle,” with the pop, polyester post-hippie mutant fashion and hair, a fun-house of risk-free drug-taking and sexual license. That this leads to a far darker place is pretty much a staple of any cinematic depiction of ’70s excess, and the fact that it works again here is largely due to the strength of the leads.
Amanda Seyfried is almost unrecognizable as Boreman, with her frizzy brown hair and freckles; hers is an almost schizophrenic performance, all naive and submissive in the first half, then desperate and determined in the second. While American cinema is always going on about “strong female” role models in the movies, they are often gun or sword-toting action-figure fantasies; Seyfried depicts the ordinary courage necessary to do something all too many women can’t or won’t do — leave an abusive partner.
Peter Sarsgaard, playing Linda’s husband Chuck Traynor, is arguably even better; Sarsgaard specializes in playing men who are somewhat twisted with regard to the opposite sex — think of “An Education” or “The Center of the World” — but Traynor is perhaps the nastiest piece of work he’s ever committed to screen, “Boys Don’t Cry” included. He injects just enough bad-boy laid-back charm at the outset to make us truly surprised when his dark side emerges; unlike Seyfried’s Boreman, he drops some clues in the first half, passive-aggressively going on about his money problems being “our” money problems, and what she can do to help. (The answer involves getting naked.)
With some great supporting work by James Franco as Playboy owner Hugh Hefner, Hank Azaria as “Deep Throat” director Gerard Damiano and Sharon Stone as Boreman’s unsympathetic mother, “Lovelace” captures the core of this troubled star’s story well, but fails to offer a wider perspective.