Linda Lovelace spent more time typing than taking off her clothes. In her one year in the porn business, she shot a single feature and a handful of shorts. In the 14 years after, she wrote four autobiographies. Only Monica Lewinsky spun such notoriety from a couple of quick BJs. Jenna Jameson, by contrast, shot more than 100 dirty movies and she’s still only the adult industry’s second-most famous starlet.
The films made Linda Lovelace famous. The books made her fascinating. Her first two were chipper cockstructionals, packed with advice on increasing your bust size and how to fit a foot—an actual foot—into your hoo-ha. (If Deep Throat was the Citizen Kane of porn, her early lesbian fetish snippet, “The Foot,” is its Pink Flamingos.) Lovelace’s second two, Ordeal and Out of Bondage, were nightmares. One memorable tip: how to convince Hugh Hefner you’re willing to sleep with a dog while sneakily discouraging the dog from getting fresh. But Lovelace—née Linda Boreman, later Linda Marciano—wasn’t the most credible victim. By her own admission, she spent the ’70s hypnotized and stoned and the ’80s as a born-again Christian who suffered from PTSD and a fragmented personality. In Lovelace, when the administrator of a polygraph asks her, “Is your name Linda Lovelace?” she pales and pleads, “Can we start with an easier question?”
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman don’t have an answer, either. Instead, they punt, believing in all Lindas—the innocent kid who thinks oral sex is “disgusting,” the porno sweetheart, the avenging angel—and giving the audience blue balls. Opening with disco rollerskating and a Boogie Nights font, Lovelace tricks us into thinking it’s a retro romp starring Hollywood’s most literally wide-eyed ingenue, the otherworldly beauty Amanda Seyfried. Even tarted up with a terrible ’70s perm, Seyfried has the gamboling innocence of a sexy, sexy deer. She plays Lovelace as both shy and eager, a contradiction that doesn’t add up, and when Seyfried looks at an offscreen penis, she seems to be thinking, “Whiz jeepers! Is that for me?”
Something’s off, but it’s at first unclear if Lovelace knows. The first half of the film is unsettlingly upbeat—”We have the best job in the world!” chirps her co-star Harry Reems (Adam Brody)—but the rah-rah vibe is subtly askew. As she sits in the makeup chair getting ready for her big debut, both Lovelace’s co-workers and Epstein and Friedman’s camera glance at the bruises on her legs, but no one questions where they’re from. At the Deep Throat wrap party, the film-within-the-film crew hears Linda and her husband, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), bang around in a hotel room. The director snickers that she’s a sexual animal. We’re tempted to snicker, too—but if we do, we’re stumbling into Lovelace‘s trap.
Traynor’s not boning Linda. He’s beating her up. Rather than make sense of the Deep Throat star’s contradictory history, Lovelace chooses to be a one-person Rashomon. In the first half, Seyfried plays her as a sex doll in her own biopic, a bit of shiny plastic. In the second, Lovelace rewinds to the day she married Traynor and shines a flashlight on what we missed: the abuse, the guns, the degradation Linda—and everyone else—thought she deserved. In one gut-punch of a scene, the Malibu cops interrupt Traynor while he’s attacking Linda in the street, and when they realize they’ve seen this housewife screw, they allow her husband to drag her home.
That’s the Linda Lovelace paradox: How did a battered woman get nationally misread as the poster girl for the sexual revolution? Especially when her famous skill was about giving—not receiving—pleasure? Where did sweet little Bronx girl Linda Boreman, raised on meatloaf and biblical mandates to submit herself unto her husband, go astray? Lovelace points so many fingers that it needs two hands: her callously conservative mother (Sharon Stone), her passive father (Robert Patrick), her weed-smoking best friend (Juno Temple), the hustling porntrepreneurs who used her to make a buck (Chris Noth, Hank Azaria), and the porn kings like Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who used her charm to legitimize their careers. And, of course, there’s Traynor, a villain in a cheap red suit who manages to look cheaper and cheaper the more money he makes off his wife’s lady bits and limber larynx. As Sarsgaard plays him, Traynor’s a pathetic goon so fame-hungry that he sincerely asks, “Why wouldn’t I want my name on the side of a dildo?” The best thing about the film is that even the directors don’t take him seriously. Which, of course, raises the question: Why would Linda?
With Deep Throat on DVD, it’s still possible to see every inch of Linda Lovelace without ever seeing the woman herself in focus. Lovelace, ahem, blows it. The narrative rewind gives us new facts and a whole heap of crying scenes, but no added insight into Linda’s mind—she’s still as empty as an inflatable toy. Yet, though it fails as a story of one woman, it slightly succeeds as a study about all women in bad relationships who do things that aren’t in their best interest, many of them making movies in the San Fernando Valley this minute for less fame, but probably more money. (Traynor pocketed Linda’s $1,250 Deep Throat fee. There were no residuals.) Who was the real Linda Lovelace? “I want to be an actress, you know,” she giggles to an interviewer. The scene is meant to be naive and ironic, but the real irony is that Linda Lovelace might have been such a good actress that she fooled everyone.