Sometimes I watch movies simply because actors that I like are in them; in the case of 'Lovelace', I happened to notice that Peter Sarsgaard was one of the stars, which prompted my decision to stream it on Netflix (I've enjoyed Sarsgaard in other roles, and I hadn't seen him in anything for awhile).
Otherwise, I doubt that a biopic about Linda Lovelace would have ever caught my attention. I've never seen 'Deep Throat' (the porn movie that made her famous, in what was apparently her only significant "role") and certainly don't have any desire to see it. Before watching 'Lovelace', I knew of both 'Deep Throat' and Lovelace herself by name only.
Well, now that I've seen this film, I know a little more about both -- at least, I know the version of Linda Lovelace's life that's presented in 'Lovelace' (which is based on Linda's autobiography "Ordeal". I guess that certain folks have questioned the authenticity of some of the events portrayed in the film; I'm not sure why, and I don't feel that compelled to look into the reasons.)
Most of 'Lovelace' centers on Linda's relationship with her abusive ex-husband, Chuck Traynor. The movie is split into two distinct segments. The first segment shows one account of Linda's life, starting with before she became a porn star -- in this account, we see her strained relationship with her parents, her early relationship with her "boyfriend" Traynor, and finally her experience making 'Deep Throat'. (After Linda marries Traynor, his true colors start to show; he manipulates her into making the porn film, telling her that it will help launch an acting career or somesuch).
If I'm not mistaken, in this first part of 'Lovelace', the "Deep Throat" scenes (and the "glamorous" parties and celebrity status that follow the famed... er, movie's release) are intended to show Linda's life as viewed from the eyes of "the public". Here, we also get a surface glimpse of Traynor -- it's established that he handles Linda's career, and hinted at that he's not the nicest of fellows. However, Traynor is never actually violent toward Linda in this part of the film; mostly, he just comes across as vaguely sleazy and rather controlling. Linda herself seems to more-or-less enjoy her time on 'Deep Throat' and her resulting fame.
It isn't until the second segment of 'Lovelace' that we witness the true extent of Traynor's abuse (with the two different accounts of Linda's ordeal explained via several "flash forward" scenes, in which Linda is seen taking a polygraph test -- where she confirms and elaborates on the abuse by Traynor detailed in her autobiography).
In this second -- and much darker -- half of the film, Traynor beats Linda, frequently holds a gun to her head, forces her into prostitution, and blatantly exploits her fame in various attempts to bring in more money (all for himself).
Linda, for her part, tries on several occasions to flee both Traynor and the porn industry -- but her attempts are futile. Until she finally gets through to an adult film producer (?), who helps her get away (he then gathers some goons to go surprise Traynor with his own beating. Which is shown in a brief scene that's not especially graphic but IS rather bizarre -- maybe because they use a belt, of all things, as their "weapon". I'm not sure if I expected a tire iron or what -- actually, I have ZERO knowledge of how porn-industry beatdowns work -- but the belt just seemed like an odd choice.)
Eventually, in the remaining scenes of 'Lovelace', we see Linda successfully leave the adult film world; it's also established (and, in some cases, briefly shown) that she marries a much nicer man, publishes her autobiography, reconciles with her estranged parents, and, finally, becomes an outspoken anti-porn advocate.
As you might expect, 'Lovelace' is rated 'R'; and it's certainly not a film for children (who I doubt would even be interested). The abuse scenes are pretty intense, and... well, it's a movie about a porn star.
However, for a movie about a porn star, 'Lovelace' doesn't exactly glorify pornography; in fact, the adult film industry is portrayed almost entirely throughout the movie as destructive and negative. On that note, I can easily envision a "cleaned-up" version of this movie airing one day on Lifetime (or some equivalent network geared toward women).
In case you might be wondering who stars in 'Lovelace' (other than Sarsgaard) -- Linda herself is played by Amanda Seyfried. Now, as far as I know, the only other movie that I've seen Seyfried in is 'Mean Girls'; and to give her credit, she's VERY different in this role -- enough so that I might not have even known she was the same actress if I didn't recognize her name. Again, I know next to nothing about the real Linda Lovelace; so I can't say how well Seyfried captures her mannerisms and such. However, I will say that Seyfried does a pretty good job of conveying a naive young woman trapped in an abusive relationship that she desperately wants to escape, but doesn't know how to begin doing so.
As for Sarsgaard -- I wouldn't call this his greatest performance ever; but it's definitely a different sort of role for him than I've seen in prior films. And for the most part, he's very effective. I hadn't heard of Chuck Traynor at all before watching 'Lovelace'; thus (as with Seyfriend's portrayal of Linda) I'm not sure how well Sarsgaard captures the real Traynor. But Sarsgaard convincingly portrays an insecure, bullying, and (above all) pathetic lowlife of an individual; and he's actually pretty scary in the abuse scenes.
Other actors who appear in the film include: Debi Mazar (it was nice to see her again); James Franco as "Hugh Hefner" (fortunately on both counts, his role is minor); Chloe Sevigny (in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo; I did see it, but I didn't recognize Sevigny and didn't catch that it was her until the end credits); and Sharon Stone (whom I BEYOND didn't recognize as Lovelace's mother, so kudos for that -- although, performance-wise, Stone is probably the weakest in the film).
Overall, I'm not really sure how to rate 'Lovelace', although I'm granting it a (somewhat reluctant) two-and-a-half stars (or 5/10). It was more interesting than I expected, and the performances are pretty good; but it's hard to look past the fact that, in the end, 'Lovelace' is basically just a glorified Lifetime movie. (5/10)