I believe Lovelace, a biopic about the star of Deep Throat, is interesting in several ways but not great because of some limitations in the characterization of Linda Lovelace.
Maybe I’m more traditional than I like to think because I always have trouble with films in two parts (from Full Metal Jacket to Life Is Beautiful) and am searching for a third part to make it feel whole unless the narrative structure of a given film is more experimental, in which case I jettison such expectations.
Lovelace is not particularly experimental, however. The cast is terrific (more on that later) and the story is solid so far as it goes, but I want to know a little more about Linda Boreman / Linda Lovelace / Linda Marchiano.
Mostly, I want to know more about Linda Marchiano to get a deeper understanding of the person she becomes. The text at the end of the film is insufficient for me to feel a deep enough understanding of her various transitions to feel fully satisfied with the film; I have the feeling she was a much more complex person than the one I see on the screen.
Still, there is a lot to recommend it. The cast is strong. Amanda Seyfried has been a favorite of mine from the first time I saw her in a film, and I sometimes go to movies I wouldn’t otherwise see because she is in them. Once again, she is mesmerizing in the title role.
Peter Sarsgaard is another actor I greatly admire. It’s a rare talent to be able to play a predator with enough charm and skill (An Education as well as this film) that viewers can understand the attraction his target feels at the same time his character’s smarminess, selfishness, and ill-intent are skin-crawingly evident (to us) from the beginning. The duality he conveys raises the stakes from the outset.
Sharon Stone is unrecognizable as Linda’s mother, Dorothy, and her anger and disappointment are palpable. Robert Patrick is good in the small role of Linda’s father.
But, it is Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, and Hank Azaria who make the porn industry seem like such fun, probably because they are having so much fun recreating the scenes depicting the production of Deep Throat.
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have been making films together since 1987, mostly documentaries – like Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt and The Celluloid Closet – but also the narrative feature Howl. Before then, Epstein also directed an historically significant doc I’m quite fond of, The Times of Harvey Milk. Andy Bellin wrote Lovelace.
I’ll spend a moment on Howl because James Franco, who stars as poet Allen Ginsberg in this unusual biopic, also has a small but important role in Lovelace as Hugh Hefner.
Howl works a little better for me than Loveless. It has more latitude in terms of expectation because this biopic is more experimental and takes an unusual approach to the subject.
The film focuses on the time Ginsberg wrote his long poem “Howl” and, subsequently, when his publisher defended it in court over an obscenity suit.
Franco gives a powerful performance as the beat poet, and the strong supporting cast includes Jon Hamm as the defense attorney for Ginsberg’s publisher, David Straithairn as the prosecutor, and Jeff Daniels as a literary critic testifying for the prosecution.
I admire they way Epstein and Friedman – again co-directors but here also co-writers – have crafted the film from court transcripts, interviews, and the Ginsberg’s poems. I’m more ambivalent about Eric Drooker’s animation for the poems, not the use of animation, which seems fitting, but the look of these sequences.
Howl evokes a time and place with authentic feeling and with a sense of the iconography of the key players, Ginsberg and his friends Jack Keroac and Neal Cassady. Some people may find the treatment more cerebral than engaging as the film celebrates the writer’s craft, but this is not a problem for me as a viewer. Poetry is elusive, so why should a film about it be any different?
It seems ironic that the more experimental film coheres better thematically than Lovelace, but that is the effect of the two films on me. Lovelace is certainly worth seeing for the performances, the production design (oh! The 70s!), and the subject, but I need a bit more to think of it a great film rather than a good one.