Opens Fri., Aug. 9 at Pacific Place. Rated R. 92 minutes.
Released in 1972, Deep Throat is a cultural event far removed from our present, plentiful era of cyberporn. Arriving after the Pill and sexual revolution and before AIDS, it occupies a weird, creepy realm of boomer nostalgia. Its unhappy star wrote a tell-all in 1980 (the main basis for this drama), and there was a more recent documentary, Inside Deep Throat, in 2005. So what if anything are we to learn from her sad story today?
Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried), 21 years old, is still living with her dour, conservative parents (Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick). At a South Florida roller disco she meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), a parking-lot Prince Charming who drives a Mustang and runs with a fast crowd. He’s vague about his job, but he hosts wild parties with pot, a little coke, and stag movies, so she marries him. Anything to get away from Mom and Dad, to rebel. But Chuck needs money, so he talks her into doing a blue movie. “I just don’t want to disappoint anybody,” says Linda, ever the people-pleaser.
We know the rest of the story, and that’s the dilemma for directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (best known for their documentary The Celluloid Closet) and screenwriter Andy Bellin. The filmmakers certainly get the Nixon era’s look right, from Chuck’s bell-bottomed sleaze to the polyester shirts of Deep Throat’s shady producers (Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, and Chris Noth). When Chuck finally beds Linda, he cues up “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” on his reel-to-reel. Classy. As Linda’s censorious mother Dorothy, a deglamorized Stone wears her waitress uniform with tired authority; she works on her feet and resents Linda’s working on her knees. And there are snippets of Cronkite and Carson on TV—our little girl is suddenly famous, the object of snickering, lecherous fascination. (Here comes the James Franco cameo as Hugh Hefner, confusing smarm with gravitas.) While all the period details resonate, they never congeal into a story that’s in any way novel or interesting.
Part of Deep Throat’s success, Epstein and Friedman seem to be arguing, was that it contained enough humor, and a sympathetic heroine, to make it a date flick for swingers—not just a solo wank-movie. Yet Lovelace never sorts out Linda’s exploitation from the taboo-breaking phenomenon of Deep Throat. Or its legacy. And the victim’s side of any story, alone, is seldom very dramatic. In the postscript we learn that after Linda fled Chuck, he found a new wife to mooch off—porn star Marilyn Chambers. Even if Linda got out of the biz, eventually finding happiness as a mother and housewife, that biz continues on a vastly larger scale today. And there is always a new Linda at the bus stop, waiting for a new Chuck.