Somewhat innovative and occasionally compelling but not resonant enough to stand out
Lovelace takes a look at the life of the first real adult movie star, Linda Lovelace, charting her ‘rise’ from innocent, almost prudish roller-skating teen, Linda Boreman, through to the most famous adult film actress who starred in the most famous adult film in history, Deep Throat.Dabbling in this arena can be fatal to a film’s production even before it gets started – even films about the film industry struggle, and films about the adult film industry face an uphill battle – and, whilst the likes of Boogie Nights and Wonderland prove the exceptions to the rule, there are almost no mainstream features which look at the industry from a female perspective. It’s a difficult subject to tackle – aim dead-on and tell a harrowing, unflinchingly raw tale and you threaten to leave audiences failing to connect the dots between the seemingly ‘glamorous’ industry, and the one that is being portrayed; attempt to depict female strength to rise above and conquer the industry (say, become a director, rather than just star, and thus attempt to temper the inherent misogyny of the environment) and you risk delivering tacit approval; or play it all with a dark sense of humour and people may fail to get the true gravity of the situation.
Whilst Lovelace doesn’t quite solve the dilemma – its novel approach to the subject-matter: offering a double-take look at illusion vs. reality, isn’t exactly Rashomon – it does use this technique to somewhat successfully address the truth, by highlighting its distance from the ‘glamour’.
By juxtaposing illusion with purported reality, Lovelace attempts a blunt commentary on the seedy underbelly of the adult industry itself, but this is less successful, and, at the end of the day, it’s probably only Amanda Seyfried – on strong form in the central role – who survives the piece head-held-high.
Of course there are questions surrounding the veracity of this biopic, which is probably why it can’t really be labelled as that, but the real-life Linda Boreman dedicated her later years to speaking out against both the industry and spousal abuse, and both of these feature front and centre in the narrative in very plausible and unpleasant ways. Whether or not it happened quite like this, it seems eminently likely that she was coerced into a great many things, and that those things – particularly the gang rape – are truly horrific. Perhaps the film lacks the same impact that, say, the recent Channel Four series explosing the seedy underbelly of the adult industry had, but that’s purely because it is still delivered in a film format, rather than as an outright documentary.
Whatever the truth may be, Lovelace's commentary on the adult film industry is no less valid.
Originally Lovelace was supposed to star troubled ‘actress’ Lindsey Lohan, opposite James Franco as her abusive husband / pimp / manager, but Lohan’s own real-life issues took her out of the picture (and, ironically, into a completely fictional and less rewardingly unpleasant production where she co-starred with a real-life adult film star) and Franco was pushed from co-star to sidelining support as a slightly unconvincing Hugh Heffner. Amanda Seyfried then took the lead and ran with it – arguably guaranteeing this film would be infinitely better than it would have been had it starred Lohan – and, cast opposite her, we got a surprisingly effective performance from Peter Sarsgaard, who is scarily convincing as the abusive, manipulative husband (the scene with the police is just depressing).
Sharon Stone is suitably painful to watch as Boreman’s religiously-repressed mother, and Robert Patrick brings a palpable tenderness to his earnest role as the father, whilst Adam Brody tries once again – this time, almost successfully – to escape his young-face origins, here as the co-star of Deep Throat. Chris Noth and Hank Azaria join the production crew, but it’s Bobby Cannavale that stands out, once again, in the same way he did in Blue Jasmine and the third season of Boardwalk Empire. He certainly seems like one to watch.
Gritty, seedy and bleak, the film leaves you feeling suitably dirty and violated.
The co-directors, whose film credits include a number of documentaries, many looking at 60s-70s US historical events that would overlap with this kind of timeline, don’t really hit gold with this feature, but still get to play around with that dual-viewpoint narrative structure in a way that certainly gives the film a second lease of life, and makes it infinitely more engaging to watch. Memorable might not be a word that springs to mind, but there’s enough filmmaking ingenuity here to at least make the ride more pleasant, even if the subject matter will never be.
VerdictLovelace is never as touching as you’d hope it would be, never as resonant, or as powerful. It lacks a certain impact, when all is said and done, but it does feature Amanda Seyfried front and centre in a strong role which anchors the film, and the unconventional dual-narrative structure allows it to inform audiences in a slightly more subtle, sneaky way, which largely works to its benefit. It’s a tragic tale, to be sure, and an occasionally compelling watch, but not one which mainstream audiences will ever feel compelled to see.
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