Deep Throat will probably never lose a claim to the title of ‘world’s most famous porn film’. Even now, decades after its release, it’s become such a part of popular culture that it’s almost expected of film fans to have seen it, or at least be familiar with it. I recall seeing it feature in lists of ‘movies to see before you die’ and the like. It’s already been the subject of a few documentaries, including the well-received, feature length Inside Deep Throat. This is all for a grubby, 60-minute, mob-funded hardcore porn film.
It’s no surprise then that now we’re getting a narrative feature based upon it then. Even though its title Lovelace, implies it being a biopic of Deep Throat’s star, Linda Boreman aka Linda Lovelace, this is really just about the circumstances that led to, and the aftermath of, the making of Deep Throat.
The first half of Lovelace plays out in a fairly typical biopic fashion, we meet Linda Boreman as she’s a young woman living with her conservative parents, ruled by her overbearing mother. She meets a young man named Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) who charms both her and her family, eventually she moves in with him and gets married. Then financial hardships and Chuck’s connection to pornographers result in him becoming her ‘manager’ and getting Linda starring in a porno movie that becomes an unexpected crossover hit. She’s a star! Everyone’s taking about her. So far, so Boogie Nights.
This first part recreates its seventies world using various fashion and music choices, everyone’s wearing coloured leather jackets and boasting big hair and/or moustaches. It’s quite fun as it rolls along predictably, there are a few laughs along the way, mainly from the two pornographers (Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale), who declare they’re ‘gonna win oscars’ for their work. There’s also humour to be found in the recreation of actual dialogue scenes from Deep Throat. The film boasts a surprisingly impressive cast list, nearly every character is played by a familiar face, even the very small roles. James Franco even pops up distractingly as Hugh Hefner for a moment. The most striking performance might be from an unrecognisable Sharon Stone as Linda’s cruel mother though, I honestly didn’t realise it was her until the end credits.
Then, at the height of Linda’s fame, Lovelace pulls its big trick. It suddenly cuts to six years later, with Linda recounting her side of the story which then plays out to us. We get to witness many of the previous scenes again with an added perspective. This time, Chuck is revealed to be a monstrous, vile, individual, who regularly beats, abuses, and pimps out his wife. It’s quite shocking stuff, suggesting that Linda is not the poster girl for sexual liberation but in fact a prisoner trapped in a cycle of abuse. Sarsgaard gives a very good performance in which he is able to convey both the greasy charm that could seduce Linda and the terror that kept her from running for fear of death. Amanda Seyfried also impresses in the title role.
The decision to play out the movie in this manner results in Linda coming across as basically an innocent victim of horrible circumstances. She seems dangerously naïve, particularly in her audition scene in which she doesn’t even seem to know what kind of film she’s trying out for. The film does contain one hint that she might not be quite as innocent as she appears via a passing mention that she had already had a child before she met Chuck, which her mother gave away. Her innocence to it all seemed so severe that it left me somewhat sceptical to the film’s facts, and indeed (if Wikipedia is to be believed) there are some factually dubious moments in the film. For example, the film implies that Deep Throat was the only porno she appeared in, aside from a home movie Chuck ‘auditions’ her with. In fact, she’s reported to have starred in several prior to Deep Throat, including, most disturbingly, a bestiality film. Lovelace makes no mention of this.
The deliberate decision to have the story play out twice from two perspectives doesn’t feel like just a gimmick, rather a reflection on the public’s view of the story, then Linda’s view, but it’s always going to beg the question of whether it would have worked better showing everything as one film. The comedic moments might have suffered but the film as a whole might have been more powerful.
Its structure and reverence for its subject might raise some questions, but Lovelace is still a mostly compelling true-life drama, boosted by a great cast.
Note: I’m no prude, but in the interests of honesty I’ll say that I haven’t actually seen Deep Throat. I’ve seen clips of it in a few documentaries and countdown shows over the years, including Inside Deep Throat. I had briefly wondered if Lovelace would expect its audience to be familiar with the film, but soon realised that it wasn’t important. If anyone needs confirmation of this, I recently heard Amanda Seyfried herself state that she hadn’t watched the whole thing.