By Brian Moylan, Hollywood.com Staff
Remember when, for a hot second, Lindsay Lohan was supposed to play '70s porn icon Linda Lovelace in a biopic while a similar project was also being shopped around Hollywood? Well, thank god we got to see Amanda Seyfried play her first, because she is absolutely perfect in Lovelace, which debuted at Sundance on Tuesday night. Poor Malin Akerman, who took Lindsay's place, is going to have some big, um, shoes (?) to fill.
Seyfried is one of those actresses where you could always see promise (either as a ditz in Mean Girls or a conflicted polygamist in Big Love) but whose subsequent movie work has been, well, to call it ""sub par"" would be a compliment. (I mean, In Time anyone?) Expectations were also low for directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein's Lovelace. I guess that's what happens when you make a movie about porn everyone thinks that the product is going to be just as lackluster as its subject matter. I'm happy to report that Lovelace is far better than expectations, especially Seyfried, who gives one of those raw, vulnerable, and nuanced performances that earn ingenues their first Oscar nomination.
History already told the story of Lovelace, who grew up in New York and Florida and made the most famous porn movie of all time, Deep Throat. She later wrote a book, Ordeal, about her experience making the movie and her abusive husband, Chuck Traynor, who forced her into it. She then became an outspoken critic of the porn industry as a whole before her death in 2002.
The movie starts out like any other biopic, showing her rise to fame and the strict parents that pushed her into the arms of Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). When we get halfway through, after the making of Deep Throat, the evidence of abuse is already starting to show and it's easy to think the film will be another What's Love Got to Do with It. (Things will get worse and worse before she finally leaves.) That's when the movie plays a keen trick. Instead of continuing forward, it goes backward, reshowing the scenes we already saw but with added details. For instance, Linda and Chuck's first night as a married couple wasn't a scene of married bliss as we were first lead to believe. It was actually the first night Chuck raped Linda.
This is a keen tactic because it mimics Linda's story as it unfolded to the public and it uses our expectations of the genre and turns them on their head (though forces them on their back might be a more apt analogy). We knew her as the porn star, passing all sorts of judgements on her and her profession, and later had to rethink those things when the real nature of her relationship with Traynor came to light.
Along with Seyfried, who cannily occupies the head space of an abused woman who vacillates between trying to please everyone and trying to escape, the cast is an embarrassment of riches. The underused and always amazing Debi Mazar plays a fellow porn star, James Franco does a cameo as Hugh Hefner, Chris Noth plays a shady financier, Adam Brody as porn star Harry Reems, Hank Azaria is a badly touped director, Bobby Cannavale is a producer, and Chloë Sevigny shares one short scene with her Big Love costar as a reporter (reunion alert!). Now we need to talk about Sharon Stone, who is completely unrecognizable as Linda's harsh and disapproving mother Dorothy, who practically pushes her daughter into the arms of an abusive man and lives to regret it. It's the best thing she's done since Casino.
As for the movie itself, it has some problems. After retracing the story, it picks up six years in the future when Linda goes public with her allegations of abuse. While it's important to see what she has become, we never get to see her transformation and we never get to see just how she got away from Chuck and into a loving relationship and a quiet life on Long Island. From a journalistic standpoint, that's the information we want to know. We want to see Seyfried make the transformation from a scared bird on a porn set to a staunch domestic violence advocate on Donahue. There haven't been any actresses who started a successful career making porn, but it looks like Seyfried might be the first.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Millennium Films]
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