DVD REVIEW: Lovelace (2013)

THE SET-UP

The life of Linda Boreman, who gained fame as porn star Linda Lovelace, is dramatized, including an abusive husband who forced her into pornography and her eventual escape from the adult film industry. Stars Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, James Franco, Chris Noth, Sharon Stone, and Robert Patrick.
Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

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THE DELIVERY

Lovelace is a strong indictment of the pornography industry and a personal story of one woman’s triumph over domestic abuse. Amanda Seyfried is outstanding as Linda Boreman, who became famous as Linda Lovelace, the star of Deep Throat, the first pornographic film to go “mainstream.” While the film highlights just how popular the film was back then (Johnny Carson is even shown in archival footage talking about it), the truth wasn’t quite so glamorous.   

Under the skilled direction of co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film covers the events of Linda’s brief career in pornography several times by telling it from different angles, with each “pass” providing different insights and more detail. First, we see Linda’s seemingly willing participation in the industry, and she appears to be having a great time. As the events are covered a second time, we see that her participation was anything but voluntary. As the film continues to peel back the layers, we see the truth: Linda was a battered wife whose husband (Peter Sarsgaard, in a fine performance) abused and controlled her to the point of forcing her into porn and prostituting her out to wealthy men who wanted a night with her.   

An impressive supporting cast elevates the film, including Robert Patrick and an almost-unrecognizable Sharon Stone as Linda’s parents. Hank Azaria and Chris Noth appear as Deep Throat’s director and producer, and James Franco has an excellent cameo as Hugh Hefner.

For a film about the porn industry, there is little actual sex portrayed on-screen and less nudity than you would expect. Although there is strong sexual content and nudity, this film is not titillating or erotic. Instead, it is sad and disturbing. While I’m sure there will be plenty of talk about Seyfried’s topless scenes in the film, that talk will overshadow her fine performance, which portrays Lovelace as a wild child who discovered, rather tragically, the ruthless side of the porn industry. 

Seyfried has earned a reputation in recent years as a serious actress by taking on substantial roles unlike her earlier movie choices like Dear John and Mean Girls. Her small but crucial performance in Les Miserables last year was excellent, and here, she takes a thankless, rather unglamorous role and makes it sympathetic. She isn’t here merely as eye candy – she breathes real life into the person of Linda, and her performance is surprisingly affecting. 

The film isn’t perfect – there are pacing issues, and the script tries a bit too hard to make Linda appear blameless and innocent, while demonizing her husband Chuck Traynor (Sarsgaard). The participation of the Lovelace estate in the film’s production is likely responsible for this, and while it is obvious Traynor was abusive, the film never quite sells the idea that Linda was a helpless victim who couldn’t get help.

Although the film tells a compelling story, the adult content is likely to turn off most viewers (no pun intended). While the film is far less sexually graphic than what you would see on late-night Cinemax, it doesn’t shy away from the discussion or just-offscreen depiction of sex acts. In fact, one of the more disturbing parts of the film are the many reaction shots of individuals watching the pornography, which was likely the point. What topless scenes Seyfried does have seem totally unnecessary to telling the story, and seemed tacked-on. Even a film critical of the porn industry felt the need for the star to “deliver the goods,” it seems.

Because of its graphic content and subject matter, Lovelace isn’t exactly the type of film people must see, and I can’t truly recommend it for everyone. It is a difficult film to watch and enjoy. However, there are those who perhaps should see it. It does bring home an important point about our culture’s obsession with sex and the “mainstreaming” of pornography. If nothing else, it will make some think twice about taking to the internet to look at “harmless” pornography. If it accomplishes that, than it has served a valuable purpose.

VIDEO AND AUDIO

The standard DVD features a solid picture, although the filmmakers made a unique style choice by shooting the picture on Super 16MM film, which injected noticeable film grain, and provided a vintage look. It certainly helps to sell the film’s 1970s settings, but it does affect the overall quality compared to transfers for new films. Still, detail is good (a few jagged edges are seen at times) and the colors (especially the garish oranges and yellows popular during the period) are bright, with minimal bleed. The audio is an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with surprising surround effect and good depth and clarity, especially for a film with no explosions or outrageous sound effects.

SPECIAL FEATURES

A 14-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette is included, called “Behind Lovelace.” It includes a number of interviews with the cast and crew, including Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard. It is fairly interesting, and even details how filmmakers used digital effects to insert Seyfried into a real interview with Phil Donahue from the 1970s. 

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?

Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 7

Video: 8

Audio: 8

Extras: 5

Overall score: 7

7

Lovelace is not the film you expect it to be. It is a well-constructed, well-acted drama that is both disturbing and sickening as it exposes the dark side of pornography and the exploitation of women. The content can be quite graphic, so it isn’t a movie for everyone. 

DVD SPECS

Release date: November 5, 2013

Rating: R

Running time: 93 minutes

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English for the Deaf and hard of Hearing, Spanish

Special features: “Behind Lovelace” featurette

Label: Anchor Bay

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