The late star of “Deep Throat,” Linda Lovelace, titled her 1980 autobiography “Ordeal,” but, for the most part, “Lovelace” goes down smooth. Reducing an immensely disturbing, politically byzantine tale to a series of cartoonish vignettes, this celeb-studded biopic squanders a gutsy performance by Amanda Seyfried while making ’70s porn look scarcely more sleazy than a movie-of-the-week melodrama from the period. Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman forsake the truth-telling spirit of their past work in documentary, relying on jumbled chronology and long ellipses to smooth over the Lovelace saga’s many rough edges. Commercial rewards appear doubtful nonetheless for the Radius-TWC pickup.
Nowhere in the pic’s whirlwind 93 minutes are the details of Lovelace’s unhappy childhood in working-class Yonkers; her pair of serious car accidents, one of which required a blood transfusion that eventually led to her contraction of hepatitis; her pre-“Deep Throat” involvement in “Dogarama,” a film featuring bestiality; her mid-’70s addiction to pot and painkillers; her late-’70s gravitation to Christianity; or her years of work in anti-porn feminist activism — unless one counts a patronizing title card at the end.
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An honest account of Lovelace’s infernal experience might well be unfilmable in the current climate. In any event, “Lovelace” does make room within the boundaries of R-rated entertainment for the porn star’s infamous husband, Chuck Traynor, played by a muttonchops-sporting Peter Sarsgaard as a greedy, glowering, violently coercive man who cries on occasion.
Near the start of the film, Traynor spies a 21-year-old Lovelace shimmying onstage at a Florida roller rink and sets about seducing the naive young woman, bringing flowers to dinner with her clueless parents (Robert Patrick, and a nearly unrecognizable Sharon Stone) before literally pushing her to practice the finer points of fellatio. Skip to six months later, as the new Mrs. Traynor bails her husband out of jail and is convinced to audition for Gerry Damiano (Hank Azaria), a porn auteur who’s proud to be lensing his next pic, “Deep Throat,” in 35mm.
For reasons best known to themselves, Epstein and Friedman depict the production of “Deep Throat” twice in succession — first with a wide-eyed and blushing Lovelace acting more or less independently, and again in a version that, acknowledging the real woman’s “Ordeal,” includes images of a pistol-packing Traynor delivering abusive direction behind the scenes. One can only surmise that the first version is there to appease those who continue to dispute the Lovelace account (this despite the fact that, as the film itself portrays, she passed a polygraph test administered by her publishers).
Whatever the case, “Lovelace” lacks the nerve to adhere to the standard practice of biography, resulting in a film that purports to respect its subject without fully taking her side. To its credit, the movie includes one extremely unpleasant scene of Lovelace being raped by Traynor (who in real life argued that the pair’s rough sex was consensual), but it concludes on a note that could easily be read as upbeat.
Certainly the film bears evidence of some last-minute shifts of political perspective: Sarah Jessica Parker was widely reported to have played Gloria Steinem in the movie, but she’s missing from the final cut, while Chloe Sevigny’s role as a feminist reporter amounts to a single shot.
William Arnold’s impeccable production design, captured in all its garish color by Eric Edwards’ cinematography, is never less than fully of the period. Other tech credits are vivid, but sometimes to a fault, as re-creations of “Deep Throat” shots suggest a vastly more accomplished production than the amateurish one that miraculously grossed an estimated $600 million — with $1,250 reportedly going to Lovelace.