On Lovelace and how much dark matter an audience can take
The question is rhetorical. Of course they do. Unless you’re a billionaire who can afford to finance your own movie and do whatever you like, you need adjust. You don’t want to shock people so much that they leave the theatre and advise their friends against watching the film. And you don’t want a rating slapped onto your film that locks out your potential teenage audience. So they tread carefully. And they compromise.
I thought of this as I watched The Killing Fields, which I will write about at some other point. While it shows some of the hardships that the Cambodian people suffered from under the Pol Pot regime, it’s a watered down version compared to the books I’ve read with testimonies of what really happened in those camps. The torture that took place was on par with the worst sort of horror films. The Killing Field doesn’t quite convey this. They must have calculated that it was too much.
Lovelace is a more recent example of a story that is smoothened out a little to make it possible to watch for a wider audience.
This film covers a few years in the life of Linda Lovelace, the actress who got famous with the porn movie Deep Throat. It’s a two-part story with different perspectives. In the first part you see her life as a pretty content young woman, having a great time, hanging with the celebrities, participating in fun parties and cheerfully flirting with Hugh Hefner. That’s the story that the movie was sold with, the story that the audience wanted to hear. Half way through it turns over, showing what some critics wish that The Wolf of Wall Street should have shown: the “other side”. Because, as she later stated in her auto-biography Ordeal, Lovelace wasn’t happy at all. She lived in a relationship with a man who abused her in every thinkable way.
With a matter as dark as this I think you need to take some risks as a film maker and Lovelace doesn’t quite do this. There’s nothing wrong with Amanda Seyfried Lovelace, but what she’s exposed to isn’t so outrageous and graphic that it gets under my skin. A film about a woman suffering like this should leave me nauseated, angry, upset. I should want to hide under a blanket, covering my eyes. I should feel Linda Lovelace’s pain as if it was my own. And I don’t. Yes, I get that Chuck was a horrible person, but he’s not so beyond-any-description bad that he’ll claim a reserved seat in my mind where he’ll torture me with recollections for the rest of my life, like let’s say Gary Oldman in Léon.
They bailed out a little. I guess they had their reasons. It’s not a bad movie. It’s over average, but it’s a little unremarkable. And I wonder if it was the right call. It hasn’t been a success, neither with the critics, nor at the box office.
Lovelace (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, US 2013) My rating: 3,5/5