Cheap and Easy, by David Bax
A woman is born with her clitoris at the back of her throat. That’s the premise of 1972’s incomparably impactful porn film Deep Throat. It’s such a baldly ridiculous conceit that it’s almost solely responsible for the film being an ironically laughable cultural touchstone today. What’s not laughable is the story of Linda Lovelace, Deep Throat’s star, who was coerced, cajoled and many other words that essentially boil down to forced to appear onscreen doing the things that generally take place in this kind of film. It’s one of the most heartbreaking and compelling stories in the history of popular culture. It’s too bad the new film about her experiences, Lovelace, doesn’t seem to understand that.
Linda Lovelace was born Linda Boreman in the Bronx. When she was 16, her family moved to Florida, where she met Chuck Traynor. He was 12 years older than she was and already involved in prostitution and pornography. He quickly came to be a frighteningly domineering force and, according to Lovelace, beat her and made her appear in short porn films. By the time she made Deep Throat, she wasn’t even allowed to go to the restroom without his permission and was being made to have sex with strange men who had paid Traynor. It wasn’t until she finally got away from him and wrote her memoir that all of this came to light.
This is the story of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Lovelace. It would be safe to assume that anyone who’s bought a ticket to see the movie is at least vaguely aware of it. The film’s trailer certainly doesn’t make it look like a fun time of a biopic. Yet Epstein and Friedman chose to present their tale in a gimmicky and rather disingenuous way. We see Linda’s unhappy home life with her parents and then we see her meet Chuck. We see her fall in love with him. We see him take her away from a world she hates, expand her horizons and make her a star. We see all of this with only the slightest hints of turmoil or unhappiness. Only then do we go back and see it all again with the nasty parts we already knew were there.
It’s because we know about the dark stuff that the decision to present it lightly at first comes across as a cheap and sordid ploy. Everything about the film has this same queasy edge to it. Instead of being one of the saddest, most disturbing stories in recent history, the film is full of tawdry indulgences in the sensationally naughty world of adult films.
Further evidence that the audience is meant to weirdly enjoy seeing such depravity comes in the form of the costuming, hairstyling and production design. Every aesthetic choice is so on the nose that it comes to feel as if the film is being ironic about a woman who was essentially raped for years on end because it happened to occur in the early 1970s.
Fortunately for my senses and my soul, Linda Lovelace’s memory isn’t completely desecrated, thanks to Amanda Seyfried, who is, without exaggeration, perfect in the title role. It’s as if her performance was transmitted in from another movie, the movie we should be getting. If Seyfried put on a one-woman show about the life of Linda Lovelace, I’d pay to see it twice.
The rest of the cast – and it’s an impressive one (Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Adam Brody, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, James Franco, Eric Roberts, Chloë Sevigny, Bobby Cannavale and Debi Mazar all appear) – is mostly having fun playing dress-up. Noth along manages the impressive feat of underplaying his role as the intimidating gangster who’s financing Deep Throat, even though he has to do so in ridiculous leisure suits. Franco, however, is the worst. As Hugh Hefner, he’s displaying even less effort than he did as an Oscar host.
It seems that no one other than Seyfried took seriously the utter torment that was this part of Linda Lovelace’s life. Lovelace, instead of being a tribute to the woman, is instead just another element of her exploitation, as shamefully prurient and disrespectful as Deep Throat itself.