‘Lovelace’ is like a parody of biopics starring great actors

Hey look! It's James Franco as Hugh Hefner (opposite lead Amanda Seyfried) — one of the many star cameos in "Lovelace." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Hey look! It’s James Franco as Hugh Hefner (opposite lead Amanda Seyfried) — one of the many star cameos in “Lovelace.”
Credit: RADiUS-TWC

‘Lovelace’
Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The making of “Deep Throat,” the porn that went unexpectedly mainstream, and the story of its star, Linda Lovelace (née Boreman), is funny — up to a point. In the early ‘70s, a crew of lovable, if money-hungry, horndogs wanted to make an adult film that had enough class and shape to cross over. Their exploits, or at least their sartorial choices, are the stuff of comedy gold. And it would make a fun film — if its star wasn’t allegedly all the while being beaten and forced into sexual slavery by her husband.

The smartest thing the docudrama “Lovelace” does — apart from cast the reliably brilliant Peter Sarsgaard as the abusive spouse, Chuck Traynor — is divide itself in two. The first is a rollicking making-of yukfest. Halfway through, the tone doesn’t just change: The script suddenly back-pedals, revealing the other parts of scenes we’ve already witnessed — showing the demure, submissive Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) going through a living hell that she, luckily, escaped.

It’s a clever, and only somewhat questionable way to fix both a tonal and structural problem (albeit superficially similar to the one in “A Beautiful Mind”). It can’t, alas, fix everything else that’s wrong with the film, which is otherwise amateurish in every other respect, save acting. Indeed, the twist winds up turning a faux-rollicking ride into a Lifetime Movie of the Week. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are documentarians most famous for the gay cinema biggies “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” and “The Celluloid Closet.” They graduated to “fiction” with “Howl,” an experimental but woebegone presentation of Allen Ginsburg’s most major work. 

Their “Lovelace” plays like a stiff, cheap ripoff of “Boogie Nights.” It hits all the notes but with none of the swagger or rhythm. Its one structural coup aside, the script, by Andy Bellin, is a parody of reductive biopics, which presents Lovelace as a blank who goes from one monster (her mother, played with moderate hamminess by Sharon Stone) for another. It doesn’t question the veracity of Lovelace’s claims, as some have, and when it comes time to slap a judgment on pornography as mere corrosive evil, it does that, too.

“Lovelace” may look like a weak production that just happens to star many, many fine actors — but that’s its slight defense. Seyfried wisely refrains from filling too much into her blank slate character, who remains in a state of slack-jawed trauma, unable to even think of a way out, from beginning to belatedly actualized end. She’s also playing off Sarsgaard, who once again brings unexpected humanity to a monster. Traynor is ultimately a weak creature, whose final moment is a pathetic yowl — a beast neutered as cruelly as he acted towards Lovelace. The parade of famous faces (James Franco as Hugh Hefner!) quickly proves silly, but there are ripe turns from Bobby Cannavale, as a hungry producer, to Debi Mazar, predictably live-wire as Lovelace’s co-star. The film deserves none of them, but has them anyway.


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