Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman took a formulaic approach to turning Linda Lovelace’s tale of naiveté, success, abuse and redemption into a feature film that defies whatever notions one might have about a film about an adult film. By going through Linda’s experience twice – first with rose-colored glasses and second to see all the horrors we missed – instead of a roller coaster of emotions, you get one and then you get another in Lovelace. Even if you’re familiar with Linda’s true plight, the film serves it to you like a sucker punch to the gut.

There’s no doubt that the performances in the film elevated the material and made real characters of people often viewed as caricatures and punch lines. Amanda Seyfriend, as the title character, disappears into the brown curly-haired daughter of the traditionally valued Catholic parents – portrayed by a nearly unrecognizable Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick. Chuck Traynor, Linda’s husband, fellatio instructor, manager, pimp and principal abuser, is played by the equal parts charming and menacing Peter Sarsgaard. James Franco as Hugh Heffner, Hank Azaria as Deep Throat director Jerry Damiano, Adam Brody as male porn star Harry Reems and Chris Noth as the mobster financier of the project all deserve mention as well.

The beginning of the film serves as a prologue, showing Linda Boreman living at home with her mom and dad, chatting with a more sexually experienced friend (Juno Temple) and dancing innocently at a roller rink where she catches the eye of Traynor. At first Traynor seems aimless but harmless, winning over Linda’s parents at dinner but then having porn screening parties at his house. Eventually, Linda takes off with him and they get married. They plow through a motel room door in peasant blouses and flared slacks and leap onto their marital bed in seeming marital bliss. Everything after that point gets traced over twice in Lovelace. After the first go-round, there’s a flash-forward to a noticeably more homely Linda strapped up to a lie detector test. She’s writing a memoir, and her publisher insisted she do it because the true story she’s trying to tell is almost too sinister to be conceivable.

What happens when you travel through Linda’s rise a second time? The day they get married, Traynor rapes her in that same hotel room; they don’t make anything remotely like love. When Trayner admits they’re in debt and need to figure out a solution, he quite literally prostitutes her out to men at a local bar. When it had looked like the Deep Throat cast and crew were hearing Linda and Traynor having sex, they were hearing Traynor repeatedly throw Linda up against the wall. That Hollywood A-lister screening event at Heffners? After giving the Playboy founder a sample of her deep throat skills and taking a bow in a virginal white dress upon the stage, Linda goes home, where Traynor finds her and takes her out to a hotel to get gang raped – as he gets a payday.

One of the biggest assets of Lovelace is that it’s very firmly set in the 70s, having been given a very strong sense of place and time. The garish colors – from the furniture upholstery to the costuming – the hair, the makeup, the local hangouts and their clientele all felt entirely germane to the culture of the decade. Whether showing the unglamorous Boreman family home to the “high class” parties in Hollywood, the film steadfastly transports you. Add to that the filming technique that, to my millennial sensibilities called to mind an Instagram filter, the biopic at times looks more documentary than feature. It also helped that raw TV footage of the era, including a segment on Johnny Carson, has its place in the film.

The opening and closing shots of Lovelace give a good indication of the message the film is trying to convey. The first image on the screen is that iconic scene of Linda driving the car at the beginning of Deep Throat. Slowly, the camera recedes, revealing that it’s on the screen in a movie theater. What you just saw wasn’t real life; it was, in essence, just a movie. The last image on the screen is that of Linda’s family home. She’s safely tucked in there with her new husband and kids, and her parents. The camera pulls away, leaving the real woman – not the fantasy – to live on.

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