Porn is a subject that frequently splits opinion in our internet-empowered world, where sexual gratification is only ever a couple of clicks away. For its detractors, it’s an industry that objectifies the participants, takes advantage of naïve young women, and is generally filmed with a greater or lesser degree of controlled violence. For its supporters, it’s an industry which provides a product that is in demand, helps people explore their sexuality, and allows women to make great money (one of the only major industries in the world where women’s earning far outstrip men’s). LOVELACE is a film that very much supports the former argument, as Linda Boremman (Amanda Seyfried) is forced by her sociopathic husband Chuck Traynor into starring in the infamous porn film DEEP THROAT in 1972 and enters a world of debt, violence, and rape.
… a time when porn was less abundant, and a single film could change the entire industry…
Linda meets Chuck outside a roller disco, and his posturing charm offers an escape from her overbearing Catholic mother (Sharon Stone). Soon after they are married, Chuck runs into financial problems, into which he insidiously entraps Linda by insisting they are “our debts”. A meeting is set up with sleazy porn producers Butchie Peraino (Bobby Canavale) and Garry Damiano (Hank Azaria). The pair are so impressed with Chuck’s homemade sex tape that Linda is cast in their latest work of art, DEEP THROAT, the story of a sexually frustrated woman who discovers that her clitoris is located in the back of her throat.
The first half of the film plays like a nostalgic tribute to a time when porn was less abundant, and a single film could change the entire industry. Linda’s stratospheric rise through film sets, photo shoots and premieres culminates with a special screening of the film hosted by Hugh Hefner (an unconvincing cameo by James Franco). All the hallmarks of the 70s’ high-flying lifestyle are present: flared jeans, massive sideburns, cigarettes ubiquitously dangling from everyone’s lips.
However, the narrative flashes back for the second half of the film to show the alternative reality, based on Linda’s 1980 autobiography, Ordeal. Here we see that behind the scenes, Traynor was a manipulative sadist who frequently beat his wife and had virtually blackmailed her into the industry. The nadir of his actions comes when he starts pimping her out to groups of men in hotel rooms to be gang raped.
…when they notice that she’s “that blowjob girl” all duty of care is neglected…
Seyfried brings a powerful plausibility to the more emotionally turbulent scenes: at one point, a bloodied Linda tries to escape Chuck and is pursued down their suburban road until the police arrive to break up the disturbance. Initially they try to protect Linda, but when they notice that she’s “that blowjob girl” all duty of care is neglected and they simply ask for an autograph, and leave. However, for much of the film she is bland and vague – although this could be a subtle way of showing us how unconvincing and inappropriate a girl like Linda was in the world of adult filmmaking. Sarsgaard is suitably nasty as Traynor, his soft purr easily giving way to ferocious acts of cruelty whenever it suits his needs. It’s a credit to his acting that you feel great satisfaction when his debts finally catch up to him in the form of hired goons (although this is another example of the 70s clichés being too abundant).
There are also strong performances from Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone as Linda’s parents, and Juno Temple as her best friend, but their roles that are unfortunately too slight to create suitable emotional resonance. So much attention to detail is given to recreating the costumes and settings of the era that it often feels like a clichéd pastiche of the time rather than a serious film – were producer’s shirt collars really that wide forty years ago? However, LOVELACE offers a convincing argument that the porn industry turns real women into celebrated objects rather than people.