Man, I wish I'd watched Lovelace back to back with Look of Love, I could have saved some time writing one big negative review about the confused, empty, superficially entertaining porn biopics of 2013. Both films embrace their retro aesthetic, both are quite watchable, but I'll be damned if either of them conclude with any sort of satisfactory resolution. Where Michael Winterbottom's decades-long trip through the life of Paul Raymond allows itself to be breezily consumed, though, Lovelace seems to have a different motive: the film wants us to understand something about one-time "porn legend" Linda Lovelace. The goal is to humanize her, to highlight her tragedy and, not only that, but to redeem her. To her credit, actress Amanda Seyfried does well as Linda. The fit is perfect, really, as Seyfried herself has managed to maintain a curious 'good kid' reputation despite many a dangerous on-screen dalliance. She's wide-eyed and likable here, but her work can't overcome the film's terrible structural issues. The real life Linda Lovelace became a household name overnight with an infamous act recorded in Deep Throat. She was a punchline, a hot topic, and despite a brief flirtation with happiness and stardom, was also the victim of horrendous physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her megalomaniacal husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).
Traynor's treatment of Linda was (and is) about as unforgivable as it gets, and the great irony of Lovelace's life is that while her on-screen character's actions were painting her as the "poster child" for the sexually liberated woman, Linda herself was trapped, demoralized, and enduring tremendous pain. The film gets too caught up in the camp sleaze and cheesy glitz of the porn industry to pay attention to its lead's actual struggle, or its resolution. Directing team Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman attempt to really respect Linda Lovelace, and it's clear that they do, but they can't seem to balance out the narrative enough to complete their portrait in a way that still retains some dimension. What they do instead is flatten Lovelace out into just another victim. We have to watch her life get sadder and sadder, her spirit get crushed, her body violated. All of this, of course, is fundamental to Lovelace's story and to the interesting public figure she eventually became. The biggest problem with the film, though, is that it seems more interested in Linda's victimization and in Deep Throat than in showing any of the years beyond those moments. As time went on, Linda Boreman (her real name) became a very vocal anti-pornography advocate and publicly spoke out on the exploitation and abuse of women. She had a life beyond her claim to fame and beyond Chuck Traynor, but Lovelace glosses over it in mere minutes. It's a chance at deeper characterization, but one it seems the directors are only interested in as an optimistic wrap-up. They'll stick to the sex and violence, thanks, the rest? I mean, who'd want to watch that in a movie, right?