Did Walter Cronkite say a word that – as Seinfeld fans recall – is a female body part that rhymes with a woman’s name on the nightly news? After all, a clip in the film “Lovelace” shows us that Cronkite did indeed report on “Deep Throat,” the infamous 1972 pornographic film smash that became a punch line for Johnny Carson and Bob Hope, and provided a suitable pseudonym for a certain Watergate whistleblower.
My question goes unanswered in “Lovelace,” the story of used, abused “Deep Throat” star Linda Lovelace, and, quite frankly, I’m glad it does. Hearing “the most trusted man in America” make even a passing reference to “Deep Throat” is unnerving yet intriguing, like hearing Queen Elizabeth read aloud from the “Kama Sutra.” (Make that just unnerving.)
Unnerving yet intriguing – that is also an apt description for “Lovelace,” a grim, compelling film directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
It never approaches the heights of the directors’ documentary work (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “The Celluloid Closet”), and it never surprises the viewer with shocking insight. But as a set-the-record-straight chronicle of how the “poster girl for the sexual revolution” was taken advantage of and almost destroyed, the film succeeds.
Amanda Seyfried portrays the starlet with the proper mix of kindness, vulnerability and despair. (Interestingly, Lindsay Lohan was slated to star in a competing biopic, one that, like so many Lohan projects, and the actress herself, crashed and burned.)
Linda Lovelace (she died in 2002) became internationally recognized for her role in the film. For much of it, she is an intentionally blank slate, a wide-eyed Florida girl under the thumb of a domineering mother (a frumpy, barely recognizable Sharon Stone).
Typically, she soon meets a moustached, muscle-shirt-clad scary monster, Chuck Traynor. He’s played by super-creep Peter Sarsgaard, an actor who is frightening playing good guys; playing a jerk, he’s downright disturbing. “What are you so uptight about?” is his perennially clueless question.
Traynor soon brings Linda into a world of sloppy, homemade porn and greasy-haired sleaze-mongers, resulting in the higher-scale production of “Deep Throat.” Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale play the film’s driving forces as relatively good-natured horndogs; “Dat’s art, baby!” shouts Azaria’s director, Gerard Damiano.
In fact, the whole making-of comes with nary a protest, and is shot with the “wink-wink” haze that, sadly, usually accompanies stories of “Deep Throat,” that oh-so-wacky porno that even grandma could chuckle over.
This sense of naughty fun turns out to be a nice bit of posturing from Epstein and Friedman. Following the film’s production and its success (James Franco plays Hugh Hefner, by way of James Franco), we jump ahead six years.
Now, Linda is taking a polygraph test at the behest of her book publisher. She is telling all about the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of Traynor, who forcibly pushed her into the film, and even pimped her out. It is no wonder Lovelace’s memoir was titled “Ordeal.”
We head back in time once more to Linda’s pre-“Deep Throat” days, and see, from her point of view, how nightmarish her life was, and how much worse it turned after the film became a $600 million-grossing (!) cross-cultural smash. (She was paid just $1,250 for the role.)
For all that “Lovelace” does right, it never quite breaks a feeling of déjà vu, thanks to similarly themed sideburn-fuzzy looks at ’70s porn culture like “Boogie Nights,” the dreary “Wonderland,” the 2005 documentary “Inside Deep Throat,” and even Bob Fosse’s “Star 80.”
That aesthetic exhaustion, coupled with the utter bleakness of Lovelace’s abuse, makes the film hard to watch, and tough to recommend. But if it takes away some of the phony humor that is usually associated with “Deep Throat,” and instead forever makes Linda Lovelace’s ordeal an essential part of the story, then it has accomplished something undeniably important.
2 and 1/2 stars
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Brody, Sharon Stone
Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Running time: 92 minutes
Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and some domestic violence.
The Lowdown: Linda Lovelace becomes a celebrity as star of the 1972 pornographic film “Deep Throat.”