Director    Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Starring    Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple, Chris Noth, Sharon Stone, Adam Brody
Release    9 AUG (US) 23 AUG (UK)    Certificate 18
3 stars

Christopher Ratcliff

25th August 2013

It's The '70s! Hooray! I Heart The '70s! Do you remember The '70s? I do! If I wasn't gliding around a roller-rink listening to disco music in hot-pants, I was sunbathing next to the swimming pool at my mom's house listening to an AM radio, phoning the DJ to request Bachman-Turner Overdrive multiple times and giggling with my best friend who won't figure hugely in my later life. Do you know what the best thing about The '70s was, though? Apart from the fonts. There were some great fonts in The '70s. No no, the best thing about The '70s was porn!

Yeah, porn was much more fun back then. It was all moustaches and perms and guys that look like your dad and women who had real boobs and big pubic hair and the films had cheesy jokes and actual plots in them. What a time to be alive! You couldn't imagine anything bad happening in the porn industry in the '70s. Oh no, not like you could today...

That pretty much sums up the first two-thirds of Lovelace, the debut feature from Oscar winning documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. It's the wild and crazy ride of Linda Lovelace, as seen through a filter that makes it safe to view the '70s and its sexual revolution without guilt. The filter that allows Deep Throat - the 1972 Linda Lovelace porno that was the first to straddle mainstream and underground success – to be repackaged in a retro-chic cover and sold in HMV on the back of Boogie Nights' success. It's the filter that allows the vile and publicly acknowledged mistreatment of Linda Lovelace by her 'manager' Chuck Traynor to be pushed into a purposely forgotten place and allows us to enjoy retro-porn with our tongues firmly in our cheeks.

And that's the final third of Lovelace. The bad shit. The part where we backtrack through all of Linda's triumphs; the parties, the roller-discos, the promiscuity, the laughs, and it's revealed what a frightening and violent time she was really going through. Forced prostitution, rape, gang-rape, threatened with a gun to star in Deep Throat, having to suck off James Franco dressed as Hugh Hefner – really horrible shit.

James Franco again failing to be anyone but a man screaming "LOOK AT ME I'M JAMES FRANCO! LOOK LOOK LOOK!"

If only Lovelace the film was successful in presenting this contrast. If only it had more courage, imagination and understanding of Linda Lovelace's psychology to portray her life in a fully realised way. Then we wouldn't have this heavy-handed morality tale that patronises with a stilted script, flat cinematography and a pacing that hits its dramatic beats in a rather too perfunctory way. Instead we'd have something genuinely affecting, that might honour the legacy of Linda Lovelace and make some pervs think twice about their blasé attitude to porn.

There is good stuff here if you're prepared to sit through it. Amanda Seyfried is amazing, displaying with fearlessness the initial wide-eyed naivety of Lovelace, then her horror of the abyss she's accidentally fallen into, and finally the dowdy embattled hero eventually experiencing a modicum of joy. The finest scene in the movie comes when Lovelace runs away from the abusive Traynor, falls down in the road - cutting her eye open and tearing her dress - only to be ignored by two police officers who refer to her as "the blowjob lady" and ask for her autograph.

This shows perfectly the dehumanising effects of pornography; how in the perception of the viewer an actress is no longer human, that she has no dignity or basic human rights and if she gets beaten up it's her own fault. It's a heartbreaking scene and far more of a fitting tribute to Linda Lovelace's 20-year campaign against porn than the rest of the movie.

Peter Sarsgaard appears in a brave and thankless role as Chuck Traynor, looking like the very embodiment of a 'last seen leaving with' CCTV still. He's equally great when he's bottling up his obvious aggression to Lovelace's parents and when he's pleading "it was just passion" after raping Lovelace on their wedding night. He's also weirdly funny in places: whether driving around in a gold car like he's Mr Moneybags from Monopoly or when he's snorting a line of coke off his smashed wedding picture (see what I mean by heavy-handed) and then fires a pistol at the head of a Lovelace-branded blow-up doll in impotent rage.

Have I ever fucked on cocaine? I'm fucked on cocaine right now.

Elsewhere Sharon Stone, now happily married to the Robert 'T-1000' Patrick, is heartbreakingly upsetting as the Worst Mother Alive, and her appearance really makes you reappraise her role in the exploitative sex-murder-fest Basic Instinct. The rest of the cast – Hank Azaria in full Moe Szyslak mode, a fleeting Wes Bentley (which basically describes his whole career) and the dead-eyed Patrick - are merely blips on the radar. It seems as if a massive cast has been trumpeted on the poster to suggest a rich tapestry of Altman-esque character interaction when in fact they're all given ridiculously short shrift. The 90 minute running time barely gives the protagonists themselves much of a story arc.

Linda Lovelace deserves better than this. Every woman that's trapped in the porn industry against their will deserves better than this. There's a much better film trapped in here too. One that truly represents all the highs and lows of the porn industry without all the leaden morality; one that makes full use of its brilliant cast and allows their individual stories to develop at their own pace; one that is told with imagination and a visual flare fitting of the era. And that film is called Boogie Nights.

For any kids counting: I used the words 'ride', 'straddle', 'tongue', 'cheeks', 'comes' and I almost used the word 'rod' but I edited it out.

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