Lovelace Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Lovelace Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
That Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (long-time collaborators on an abundance of gay "issue" docs) chose to make a feature-length film about the domestic abuse suffered by Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace (played here by Amanda Seyfried) is, in itself, quite telling.

As gays and lesbians around the world fight for equal marriage rights, coming up against arguments citing scripture and sanctity (or sanctimony) as rationale for rigid and arbitrary, ultimately supremacist thinking, Epstein and Friedman are keen to point out the inherent hypocrisy in literal interpretations of such texts and the dangers of solipsism.

Linda Lovelace (born Linda Boreman) married young. A naïve suburban girl with strict religious parents (played by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick), she was prone to the flattery and carefree attitudes of the older Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a strip club owner she met at a roller rink. As depicted in Epstein and Friedman's bifurcated narrative, it's initially an exciting, romantic, albeit rather trashy story of passion that's ultimately rushed and forced, by necessity, when Boreman's parents prove intolerant of any sort of deviation from standardized Judeo-Christian behaviour (a reiteration of the central theme of myopic, oft-religious psychological malice).

For the first half, revealing moments leading to drama, or the inner marital workings of Linda and Chuck are deliberately left off screen. Save a few bruises and Seyfried's nuanced, carefully considered projection of putting on a brave face — those around her would likely interpret the big fake smile as idiocy — there's little to suggest her situation is as grave as we later learn. Her decision to perform fellatio on camera is one of reluctance and presumably ignorance (producers regularly ask Chuck if she truly understands what kind of movie she's starring in), but the extent of her victimhood is subdued.

After the broad historical factoids unfold, culminating in montages of sold-out theatres and topless photo spreads, before a private, elite screening introduces Linda to Hugh Hefner (James Franco), the narrative jumps back to the beginning to show the result of the many incomplete moments. It's here that we learn of Chuck's rape and abuse of Linda, renting her out for gangbang parties and threatening her life whenever she disobeys him in public.

Though everything essentially boils down to weepy melodrama, with Linda feeling trapped by the constraints of marital expectation (her mother tells her to obey her husband no matter what he does), the message, along with the subtle and impressive performance from Seyfried, transcends the material, raising it beyond movie-of-the-week territory. The decision to reveal the abuse all at once does exaggerate and heighten the emotional response, relaying a sense of identification and pathos with a morally questionable protagonist that may not otherwise exist.

Where Lovelace finds its power is in the fearful looks on Seyfried's face, knowing when Chuck is angry even before he lashes out. Her barely concealed tears while convincing her best friend (Juno Temple) that everything is okay pack the quiet punch necessary to communicate how it feels to be confined in a cycle of abuse exacerbated by social expectations.

It's true that certain aspects of Boreman's life were left out of the film to make her character more identifiable (her appearance in Dog Fucker likely wouldn't help sell the political implications of the movie), but the text remains faithful to the biopic necessities while adding some commentary on the nature of narrowly defining marriage.

There's no greater artistry or cinematic complexity to the material, but it works quite well for what it is. (eOne)