(out of 5)
The most famous oral sex in cinema history might not seem like much to be proud of, but there is something to be said about the effect that the X-rated Deep Throat had on popular culture when it was released in 1972. A combination of hard-core smuttiness and winsome humour, the film took porn mainstream and made a sensation out of its star Linda Lovelace, whose name is still synonymous with an industry she later decried as abusive to women and against which she campaigned for years. What Lovelace revealed in her autobiography, published in 1980, was that her foray into adult films was a gig forced upon her by a small-time thug of a husband who also forced her to have sex for cash off screen as well. Documentarians Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein (Common Threads, The Celluloid Closet) follow their first attempt at narrative film, Howl, with this smarmy little biopic, efficiently covering Lovelace’s life from the teenager who meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) and is immediately charmed by him. Living at home with conservative and overprotective parents (played by Robert Patrick and a terrifying Sharon Stone), Linda is thrilled to move out at the first available opportunity, heedlessly committing herself to Traynor and not realizing the downside of his personality until it is too late. Amanda Seyfried as Lovelace effectively ages the years covered by the story in a convincing performance that shows a fearless dedication to all the situations her character finds herself in, from the Boogie Nights-style on-set antics to the frumpy dresses she dons in her post-porn life. It’s a shame that she is not served well enough by her directors, who put forth a shallow recreation of the woman’s life without really taking a hard look at either the culture that produced it or its effect on cinema and sexual discourse today. An interesting flashback structure effectively conveys the mystery of Lovelace’s situation (not everyone believes her claims of coercion), but does not quite cover all the suspicion with which her later statements have been treated. Lovelace made quite a few contradictory statements in the years following Deep Throat that bear investigation, not to mention allegations of drug abuse and earlier appearances in blue movies ahead of the one she claims, but should we not also examine why it is that people have trouble believing her in the first place? Surely there is something about our attitude towards less than prudish women that kicks in when we’re watching them exercise their freedom so brazenly on a movie screen. Here the proceedings never transcend a smallness of scope, featuring a huge cast with some hits (Stone, a terrifying Sarsgaard and a greasy Chris Noth as porn producer) and misses (James Franco as Hugh Hefner? Who the hell thought of that?) Sarah Jessica Parker filmed scenes as Gloria Steinem but they were cut late in the game (her name still appears on some of the film’s posters).
Screenplay by Andy Bellin
Cinematography by Eric Alan Edwards
Music by Stephen Trask
Production Design by William Arnold
Costume Design by Karyn Wagner