There’s a central question at the heart of Lovelace, and no I don’t mean does Amanda Seyfried get naked in it (the answer is yes, but you should feel bad for asking). I mean the question people have been asking for years: who was Linda Lovelace anyway? Lovelace doesn’t exactly offer a satisfactory answer. The question I face in my review is, should we expect a fact-based movie to provide a satisfactory answer if one doesn’t exist*?
Joe Bob Briggs wrote about Linda Lovelace for United Press International after her death in 2002 (in a piece much nicer than Al Goldstein’s, who said “I want to do a final load, so that when she goes to hell my sperm goes with her.”):
Lovelace may be the only American celebrity to publish four best-selling autobiographies. The first two celebrate free uninhibited sex as the most liberating form of human expression since man learned to speak. The last two describe pornography as a felony assault against women, a menace to the future of civilization and the very essence of evil. In this one desperately unhappy woman we have both the yin and the yang of the sexual revolution played out before our eyes. [UPI]
This gets to the crux of the difficulty in making a movie about Linda Lovelace. She seems to have been three or four completely different people. Is she an uninhibited sexpot, or a rape victim/sex slave who only did porn at gunpoint? I suspect something in between, but director Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s film, from writer Andy Bellin, goes a different route. Though Linda Lovelace was something of an unreliable narrator in real life, Lovelace avoids the potential minefield of victim-blaming that would come with delving deeper or scrutinizing her view of herself, and instead, gives us both of Lovelace’s personas, the liberated sex goddess in the first half and the intimidated slave in the second. That’s either admirable, and fair to Lovelace – I mean, no one else who was around at the time is any more reliable than she was – or a bit of artistic cowardice, depending on your perspective.
Linda Lovelace, as depicted by the film, starts out as a shy 21-year-old named Linda Boreman living with her parents in Davie, Florida. Her mafioso accent doesn’t make sense until we find out she moved there from Yonkers after getting pregnant (her mom tricked her into giving up the baby for adoption). Freckle-faced Linda, who with Amanda Seyfried playing her looks much more Mormon than Catholic, starts out so bashful that she’s positively scandalized by her friend Patsy’s (Juno Temple) use of the phrase “blowjob” (oh the irony). Meanwhile, her battleaxe mom (played by the perfectly typecast Sharon Stone) slaps her around just for hanging around a bikini in the backyard like some trollop. Okay, we get it, she was very innocent. It seems a bit much, but the real Linda Lovelace was reportedly voted “Miss Holy Holy” in high school, so it’s not as if it was coming out of nowhere.
Everything changes when Linda meets Jaguar Q. Chest Hair outside a roller rink. Colonel cool guy turns out to be Chuck Traynor, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who ushers Linda into a world of groovy talk, marijuana cigarettes and sinful delight. You know, the seventies. Suddenly the girl who could scarcely stand to hear the word “blowjob” is up on a kitchen counter receiving oral pleasures under a mini skirt with her crazy parents in the next room. “Linda? How’s that coffee coming?” Sharon Stone asks. “I’m almost there!” Linda pants, in a double entendre joke better suited to Wedding Crashers or a Katherine Heigl movie.