It reveals something about how we all view pornography, even when it is a serious biographical documentary which turned out to be pretty void of sexual scenes. Still, it was surprising how we felt we had to justify going to see it with comments to those who questioned me quickly returned with the names of names who were in it, the intent of the film and the story of Linda Lovelace.
I wonder if that feeling will affect those going to see the film in the first place? Frankly I hope not because it's a good film, has some serious things to say, and it's a little sad in this day and age why such things are still steeped in stigma.
After her career in pornography she moved onto a new marriage, became a mother and joined a movement against the adult industry and pornography in general. She authored and co-authored four books including the famous Ordeal in which she talks about her marriage to her first husband Chuck Traynor who she claimed forced her at gunpoint into the films, beat her and even forced her into group sex sessions where she was gang raped.
Her story tells of an abusive and terrifying past, one that is equally corroborated and contradicted by other people inside and outside of the films she made.
Lovelace tells her story from her first meeting with Chuck Traynor through to the time when she left the industry and releases her own story.
One of the concerns I had about the film straight away was that it would take a very clear view of her life and of pornography in general, looking from the extremes written in her biography and painting everyone involved as evil, dangerous and corrupt, preaching that pornography was evil taking a stand on behalf of the audience.
Whatever your personal thoughts about the subject matter, either the films in question or pornography as a whole, the film is about Linda Boreman, it's her story and the film does well to respect that.
So, in summary, before I really start the review, the film doesn't take a biased stand from one point of view either for or against. Instead the film tells Linda Boreman's story but giving the other viewpoints and retellings of the events credence and respect. It turns out to be much more balanced than I had thought it might.
The beginning of the film might be a little of a shock to the audience, not because of any graphic content but because of the picture itself. From the opening moment the picture looks very grainy but that, the costumes and the set design all help to bring us back to the time period, and once again it feels all natural and never overdone. Well, there are a few moments, some of Peter Sarsgaard's outfits and those sideburns are pretty amazing. The grain works well to begin with and, unless my memory is playing tricks on me and I actually just got used to it, began to ease off once we were settled.
A little into the film and I was finding myself rather confused. It felt as though the story of Linda Lovelace was going to finish well before the running time was up. I wondered if we were going to be hearing a lot more about her life after the adult film industry but then that wouldn't have made sense as the story we had been seeing so far suggested no one was really coercing anyone. There were only a few moments where there's a merest sense of something odd happening with Chuck Traynor and one scene during the filming of Deep Throat that suggests something is wrong underneath the surface of the marraige.
Then something changes. Just at that point the film flips back to the beginning of the story we've already seen and we it begins to be replayed but looking past the veneer of the surface story. It feels as though we've just seen the story through the eyes of the public and the media of the time and now we're seeing it through Linda's eyes, being allowed to look behind the curtains and the closed doors, and the story changes.
I really loved the way the film turned around and ended up presenting these two sides, switching from the outside view to the inside and revealing the real story. It made me feel as though I was being shown the hidden story and had much more impact than merely telling it this way from the beginning. Something else it did was that it also gave the film the ability to tell the historical story, we were given the story that everyone else saw before being introduced to Linda's truth, just as people were at the time, except for us the film manages it in a period of hours not of years.
During the second half of the story the film doesn't just retell what we've already seen in a slightly different light, we see different scenes, viewpoints and completely new events, almost an entirely new story. The tone of the film and the intent of the characters change drastically and it becomes a much more serious and darker film.
What's also surprising is that during this half the film doesn't start making sweeping statements and taking far positioned stands against pornography. Things don't suddenly turn completely black and white, far left versus far right, instead we see a much more balanced viewpoint than even Linda Boreman's own novel. Characters in the industry and behind the scenes of Deep Throat are shown to be caring, suspicious of Chuck Traynor, and surprisingly decent people. Well, to a degree obviously. However they aren't shown as dirty, nasty, people who all participated in some conspiracy to force her against her will to lead a pornographic film, or numerous films.
With all this story and subject matter it is surprisingly easy to connect with the characters. I thought we might find them a little lost in the darkness of the story or pushed behind the moralistic messages that I had thought would be firing across the screen, but the messages weren't there and the characters came straight through first and foremost.
I think a lot of this was down to how the story had been structured, the characters written, the performances of the actors and the emotional journey they travel on. The script does deliver a strong emotional core to Linda's story and a surprising one with her parents. It's a complex relationship but in the few scenes they appear they manage to hit hard.
Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick play her parents and both give superb performances. Stone gets more to work with than Patrick and her performance is particularly powerful. She has a few scenes where she delivers it all and reminds us how good an actress she is. Her character is also key in providing a core emotional thread to Linda's story and one that really hits home hard revealing that perhaps her mother and her upbringing had a hand in the events and decisions in her life. It also allows the mother to develop and come the closing scenes we understand a lot more about the two of them and their connection. These scenes are ones that I personally felt were very important to the story and her character and ones that do connect with the audience well. The writing of those parental relationships and how they develop are really well done and is definitely something I've carried on with me after the film.
Amanda Seyfried gains most of the credit out of the performances though as she is excellent throughout the film. She plays many aspects to the character of Linda through the opening, outwardly innocent character to the latter half emotionally and physically battered character, stripped of any vestige of innocence and weary of the life that she has been forced through. Her performance is open and all too easy to believe in and connect with emotionally, she brings the audience to her character without stumbling over the hurdles of what she is doing and the business she is involved in.
Again that aspect comes down to the choices of the writers and directors too, deciding what position to take on the story, the claims of what did and didn't happen behind the scenes and on the whole issues of pornography. The film could have been a much darker and stronger toned one presenting a bleaker life and becoming a voice for the anti-pornography lobby, and instead it remains balanced and focussed on telling one character's story while connecting with the audience to elicit their empathy for the character.
Peter Sarsgaard gives a great performance too although it can be a tough one to watch at times. As previously mentioned the writers haven't made him a cartoon-esque evil character and have made him seem real and, in the end, very weak, just as most of these people really are. However at his height he is a scary and intimidating person, particularly at how far he will push his wife. Behind it all though there's an attempt to show a background and some key moments that keep his character moving onwards. At these moments we see his paranoia, his desire to control and his lack of self-worth push him in the worst direction possible until Boreman can take no more.
Sarsgaard plays it well and has strong chemistry with Seyfried, even if it is the wrong chemistry to the one we expect from a wife and husband. His opening charismatic character works with the audience as much as it does with Boreman and her parents, and the transition to the person he becomes later in the film doesn't feel as though it is too far a leap for him or for us. His final breakdown is powerful and somewhat satisfying for the audience, particularly as the story moves on to continue with Boreman.
Worth mentioning are the strong supporting roles that appear behind the leading actors. There are a number of recognisable names that put in good performances even if they aren't there for long, but the stars are undoubtedly Seyfried and Stone with Sarsgaard and Patrick playing second place to the leading ladies.
There's a lot less nudity and sex than you'd expect from such a film and that's a good thing, not because I'm too prudish to see such things in a cinema - it's the most natural thing in the world and you're nude from the opening moments of the day to the closing ones - but it's that it isn't needed in the film to portray what we need to see from the story. This is also the same way the violence and threat of violence is treated, there are much stronger and darker claims than we see in the film and even the scenes we are given are left much more to our imagination once we know where the scene is going. This has a much more powerful effect than playing out the whole scene for us.
The writer Andy Bellin and the directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman did a great job of positioning the story and the characters, deciding what to leave out, what to put in, where to end scenes and what to show the audience. They've created a much more intelligent and character focussed film than you might at first expect and it makes it all the more powerful for it. There is strong development in both the story and the character that are often borne out of subtle moments, such as can be seen with the story threads involving the parents and in particular the mother.
I was surprised at how good Lovelace was. This film is not about pornography, it isn't taking a stand against the adult film industry and it does not brush everyone involved with the dark stained evil shade. Instead it presents a personal, emotional and balanced story of Linda Boreman.
This could so easily have become a film preaching about one of the viewpoints of groups who have leapt on her story, and instead it shows both sides, not going to the extremes of some of the stories we've heard, and concentrating on the character, their relationships and their emotional impact.
Amanda Seyfried is superb and gives one of her effortless performances making her character utterly believable and delivering a range of emotion proving easily accessible to the audience. Sharon Stone is a big surprise too and helps deliver the emotional core of the story with Peter Sarsgaard and Robert Patrick giving strong supporting performances.
This film isn't about pornography, nor is it the story of Deep Throat, and that's one of the major strengths of the film. It's about the woman behind the film and about the people closest to her, and the film does a superb job of keeping us concentrated on those most important aspects.
With strong writing and direction as well as very good performances, Lovelace will surprise you but you have to give it a go. Put aside any preconceptions you might have about the subject matter and go and see it. This isn't a film about pornography, it's a film about Linda Boreman, and it's an emotionally powerful one at that.