Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Epstein, Friedman & Bellin's LOVELACE proves a conventional biopic done well

When Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman made their excellent-but-too-little-seen, all-about-Allen movie, Howl, many of us were particularly taken with how these filmmakers joined so smartly and beauti-fully elements of the standard biopic, the (in)famous titular poem and the pornography trial about that poem, along with animation and live action. Howl was a singular, and singularly successful, movie.

When word got out that the pair was now making LOVELACE, a movie about the late Deep Throat porn star Linda Lovelace, some of us wondered if they would give this movie, too, such an unusual, fine and fractured style. One thing is certainly clear: Epstein (shown at right) and Friedman (below) -- this time joined by screenwriter Andy Bellin (who also wrote the recent Trust) -- are more interested in fitting their style to their subject and to the kind of film they want to make, rather than repeating themselves or using flash for flash's sake.

Consequently, Lovelace -- which purports to tell the story of how a more-or-less girl-next-door came to be the biggest name in porn movies with a specialty that made her even more famous -- takes an unconventional subject and, though it handles this relatively conventionally, does it justice, and then some. Bellin's screenplay offers dialog that's both believably satisfying, while his organization is especially smart. He show events first as Lovelace -- and we in the audience -- would have expected them to take place, but then we see some of these again, this time from the perspective of a more and more damaged woman.

What made us chuckle the first time round makes us gasp the second. Much of the reason for this gasp is how convincing is the the entire cast, lead roles through supporting performances. As Linda Loverlace, Amanda Seyfried, an actress I would never have imagined in this role, turns out to have been a wise choice. She looks plainer here (above, with Adam Brody, who plays a much-less-hairy Harry Reems) than I've ever seen her, blond hair made brunette, but with her usual freshness intact.

From the beginning, when we see Linda bathing (above) to the strains of the song, Bad Situation, then flash back to her youth and watch her learn and grow until we come back to the bathtub once again, Lovelace puts us in this young woman's sphere so fully that we come to understand her very well.

The filmmakers rely on their actors to flesh out characters who are only cursorily sketched in the screenplay, yet this gives them (unlike the characters in Woody Allen's recent Blue Jasmine) enough ammunition to fire off fine characterizations. These include Sharon Stone (above), quite memorable as Linda's mom, and Robert Patrick, quieter but no less impressive, as her dad.

Though Deep Throat was hardcore to its toes and other extremities, Lovelace is mild by comparison. Instead, the filmmakers rely on good actors like Bobby Cannavale (above, center), Chris Noth (left) and Hank Azaria (right) to capture the sleaze factor -- which they do with humor and abandon. Note the scene in which the three gasp at Linda's special ability, and then Cannavale asks her hubby/agent, Chuck Traynor, played by Peter Sarsgaard (below, left), whose at-home sex tape the three are currently viewing, "Can she do that with a big dick -- no offense to you, buddy."

JamesFranco (below) makes the perfect Hugh Hefner (in his heyday) and JunoTemple provides a nice combination of sleaze and rationality at Linda's best friend who initially seems to be leading her away from the straight-and-narrow but who later tries to get her back on track.

Through it all, Ms Seyfriend is consistently engrossing, real and moving. It's hard to imagine her not getting an Academy nod for this performance. Simply for the sweet scene she plays with Wes Bentley (excellent as the kindly photographer trying to get her to relax), she'll steal your heart.

What happens to Ms Lovelace -- and why -- is worth knowing and viewing. As the end credits roll and we learn what happened to some of the other folk here (Mr. Traynor, for instance), this surprised even me, who lived through the 1970s -- recaptured here in all its goofy glory -- and thought I knew a lot about 70s porno, its stars and prominent figures. These filmmaker probably wouldn't want to repeat themselves, but I hope that somebody else will tackle the tale of another 70s porn superstar, Marilyn Chambers....

Meanwhile, Lovelace -- from Radius TWC and running a swift 92 minutes -- opens this Friday, August 9, in theaters, on VOD and via iTunes.

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