In the age of Internet smut and sexting politicians, the porn industry of the ’70s looks quaint indeed, a bastion of family values. It was already regarded as such in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” (1997), which depicted the skin trade as an alternative family of losers bonding under the paternal eye of their producer. More recently, in “The Look of Love” it is literally a family business, with the problems all families face, exacerbated by threesomes and cocaine. And again in “Lovelace,” a biopic about the star of “Deep Throat” (1972), family in the end matters most. Such is the rosy conclusion of directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who, after capturing that demimonde’s allure and squalor in the first half of the movie, tell the story once again as a bogus morality tale.
The first version starts in Florida in 1970, where shy Linda (Amanda Seyfried), browbeaten by her bluenosed mother (Sharon Stone), gets mixed up with slick Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard, who looks like the John C. Reilly character in “Boogie Nights”). He shows her a good time, teaches her the skill that gives “Deep Throat” its name, and marries her. Then he needs money and soon she is in front of a camera unzipping Harry Reems (Adam Brody), and a legend is born.
Speaking of legends, the film then takes a cue from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and repeats the story, but with a difference. It’s “six years later,” and Lovelace undergoes a polygraph test for the publisher of her memoirs. She recounts the same events, they’re shown again from her point of view, and, surprise, Traynor turns out to be not a nice man — a pimp and a sadist — nor was she a willing participant. Asked on “The Phil Donahue Show” what happened to her, she says “Chuck Traynor happened to me.”
Overlooking the dubiousness of Donahue as a moral authority, her statement leaves a few people off the hook. Like her grotesque parents, exonerated with a hug by movie’s end. And the mob (who come off as decent guys) and whoever else made off with the estimated $600 million in “Deep Throat” grosses. And those who paid out that money to see the film, a cultural phenomenon at the time, and a touchstone of American sexual hypocrisy.
Epstein and Friedman may have the best of intentions, but in the end they’re exploiting Lovelace, too.