“Controversial” is the minimum of what we can expect from Lovelace, the story of porn star Linda Lovelace whose debut film, Deep Throat, generated $600m since its release in 1972, and is considered an iconic moment in the history of porn. While she was only officially a porn star for 17 days, Lovelace remains a vanguard not only of the celebrity status of adult movie acting, but also of “porno chic”.
Lovelace presents us with Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), a small-town girl who is repressed by her controlling mother (Sharon Stone) until she is liberated by her husband-to-be, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Chuck soon introduces Linda and her emerging talents to the porn industry, where, in a lush panorama of mustard wallpaper and coloured neon, the film’s visuals veer between a Tumblr search of 70s suburbia and the tinted bleakness of Ghost World.
Initially, it’s hard to see through the tropes into which the characters are so strongly sealed: good suburban girl turned bad, out-dated suppressive mother, sleazy older man. Then, unexpectedly, the crescendo of rags-to-bitches glamour swerves off into a lurid first person depiction of Linda’s account of her years of marriage and movies.
Lovelace’s allegations of forced prostitution, domestic violence and gunpoint threats come to light in this clever subversion of a conventionally neat arc-like plot by the use of flashbacks to the ‘reality’ of previous scenes. Linda’s sly response to her increasingly pimp-like husband, which once appeared an assertive declaration of independence, is revisited to show the true marital tensions and violent repercussions which underpin the couple’s every public appearance, both to the characters and to us, the viewers.
Contrastingly, Deep Throat itself is a porno steeped in feminism, with genuine humour and a fleshed-out storyline about a woman searching for something “more than a lot of little tingles.” However, it is unclear whether it is a true celebration of female sexuality and equality – seen most notably in the scene where Linda describes her self-discovery like an opening flower – or the usurping of a girl’s sex appeal is by a mob of sleazy men to the extent that she later described Deep Throat as “getting raped.”
Linda herself is also oddly blurred in character as it is unclear whether she is as naïve as the Bambi she appears to be or whether it is a front for conniving power play. At first reluctant to do anything beyond a kiss on the cheek, she reveals her young pregnancy and forced adoption before exhibiting to her husband-to-be just how experienced and willing she is.
The film seeks to condemn singular views of pornography and its participants: the reduction of women to stereotypical sexual entertainers. The constant undermining of women supports this, as does the scene where Linda is gang raped by six men, before being requested by a policeman for an autograph.
Despite this, the ending seems just a little too saccharine, with the concluding note jarring a little too forcefully with the winding trauma which appears previously. While the end credits tell us that Linda “spoke out against pornography and domestic violence for twenty years,” this seemingly positive and cohesive conclusion can be undercut with a single Google search on her Deep Throat promotional work which continued until the 90s.
To conclude: Lovelace is too thrown together to provide an accurate portrait of porno chic in the decade that taste forgot. It is an odd and often fractured account that either resolves to revel in ambiguity by not finding its definitive feet, or is simply unable to grasp an authoritative-enough tone.