The dark side of porn
Pornography is a dirty business and I'm not strictly speaking about the clean-up crew. One doesn't have to deeply penetrate the industry to dig up tales of manipulation, abuse, and self-destruction.
1972 hit Deep Throat set the standard for a successful porno and its star Linda 'Lovelace' Boreman became the archetype: an object of lust on screen, a cheerful go-getter on set, and a lost soul at home.
Lovelace examines Linda's transformation from innocent Catholic to porn star, but fails to offer any insight, instead settling for common truths when her much more interesting career as an anti-porn advocate could have been addressed.
Lovelace opens with Linda and her friend sunbathing in her backyard, Linda shy about following her friend's lead when she removes her top. Linda is depicted as a simple, naive girl that is hard to sympathize with, unless she is being beaten by boyfriend/hustler Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Without questioning, she agrees to do a porno shoot for her and Chuck's rent. It'd be one thing if she admitted to being content with the role, but the film never addresses how she actually feels.
Halfway through the film, it's revealed that Chuck was threatening Linda to do porn and other unsavory things the entire time. It's shocking and hard to watch, but hardly earned. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who only recently made the jump from documentary to narrative features with Howl, never take Linda's side. Linda is never given the room to breath and discuss her situation with other characters, suffocating in a cage much worse than the house arrest her parents subjected her to as a teenager.
Lovelace is a lopsided film, leaning on scenes of abuse to tie its story together. Most sickening of all, I got the sense that the actors were having too good of a time on set. James Franco is woefully miscast as Hugh Hefner, Amanda Seyfried goes over the top with her portrayal of Linda (I shudder to imagine Lindsey Lohan's performance, who was originally cast), and Sarsgaard is such a ruthless monster that it's hard to believe there was ever a shred of humanity to his character.
Only in the final minutes does Lovelace reach for more inspired material, focusing on the boundaries of a porn star, the contracts that leave porn stars penniless, and how 13 days defined the rest of her life in the public's eye. Instead of highlighting Linda's career as an anti-porn, anti-violence spokesperson and novelist, this key evolution is a footnote in Lovelace, a film more interested in drama and tragedy than the transformative.