abusive relationships, Amanda Seyfried, autobiography, bio-pic, blind, Blindsided, Chris Noth, Chuck Traynor, cinema, Deep Throat, direct-to-video, Film, home invasion, Lifetime Network, Linda Lovelace, Lovelace, Michael Keaton, New Year's Eve, Penthouse North, Peter Sarsgaard, porn industry, porn stars, Sharon Stone, stolen diamonds, suspense, tell-all books, thriller
Truth, as we increasingly find in this day and age, can be a very relative concept. We’re told that history is written by the winners (sad but true) and that one person’s concept of truth can dissolve in the searing heat of another person’s certainty (however misplaced). This can be especially true when one examines the traditional cinematic biopic. Any biography (or autobiography, if we’re being completely honest) comes with its own bias: that’s just par for the course. What happens, however, when a biopic attempts to show all truths simultaneously? Which truth, then, does the audience hold firm to? How do we know what to believe? Does it technically even matter if we don’t know who or what to believe? What if the unreliable narrator is the actual subject of the biopic?
Lovelace, the recent biopic about former porn star Linda Lovelace’s relationship with her husband/manager Chuck Traynor and her experiences filming the porn blockbuster Deep Throat, is a tale of two cities (almost literally). The film splits its running time evenly, beginning with the idealized, air-brushed version of he story (local girl makes good, has a blast, has lots of sex and gets into interesting adventures) before restarting the whole narrative from Lovelace’s amended account of the proceedings (physical abuse, drug use, gang rape, gun violence, familial distress and, essentially, prostitution). Ultimately, despite some very good performances (and some very bad ones), Lovelace will probably be remembered more for its Rashomonish narrative gimmicks than for the actual film, itself.
The inspiration for the first half, at least from a filmmaking perspective, definitely seems to be PT Anderson’s classic porn epic, Boogie Nights. The first 45 minutes of the film fly by in a candy-coated, neon rush of big hair, funky clothes, crazy parties and sex, sex, sex. Even the titles and font choices at the beginning had me mentally comparing this to Boogie Nights (subject notwithstanding). Around the 45 minute mark, however, the film recasts everything in a decidedly grimmer, darker light. For this portion, the inspiration definitely seems to be Star 80, Bob Fosse’s grim look at the life and untimely death of porn star Dorothy Stratten. As Chuck Traynor becomes more and more abusive, Linda’s life becomes more and more hellish. We also get to see the older, wiser Linda (in the story’s timeline, at least), which provides an interesting contrast to the wide-eyed, naive ingenue from the beginning.
There’s a lot to like about Lovelace, particularly the strong performances by Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard as Linda and Chuck. Seyfried brings a wholesome, winsome quality to her performance that feels 100% genuine: I’ve never been a big fan of hers but this is definitely some next-level work she’s doing here. Sarsgaard, likewise, is exceptional, managing to make Chuck equal parts pathetic puppy and abusive psycho. Kudos must certainly go to Sharon Stone, as Linda’s mother: she disappeared so far into the role that I didn’t even realize who she was until my wife recognized her in the final moments of the movie. Chris Noth and Hank Azaria bring some real humanity to their roles as a porn producer and director, respectively. The scene where Noth beats Sarsgaard with a belt, as retribution for his treatment of Linda, is a thing of absolute beauty.
The film has a very strong sense of time, helped by some really nice, subtle set design. The movie also found ways to connect both disparate halves in some truly sneaky machinations. My favorite example of this comes during the “happy” portion of the film, where party goers comment on the thumping and bumping “sex sounds” coming from behind the closed-door to Linda and Chucks room. The second half of the film actually takes us into the room, where we witness Chuck beating Linda. This upending of expectations was very nicely handled. To be honest, I wish they had done more of this.
Ultimately, Lovelace is a good film undone slightly by its unnerving similarities to the films mentioned previously. There’s not much that it gets wrong, although I will say that James Franco was the most ridiculous Hugh Hefner that they could possibly get. Absolutely nothing about Franco’s generic performance reminded me in any way, shape or form of the actual Hefner, which is pretty surprising considering how easy it would seem to be to mimic the iconic pornographer. Everything about the performance (mercifully short) reminded me of nothing more than another Franco performance.
The big question regarding the film, however, is more difficult to answer: is it entertaining? Yes and no. As mentioned, the first half glides along on an extremely likable cloud of rampant carnality with Lovelace as the wide-eyed country mouse newly arrived in town. It’s fun, in a fish-out-of-water, Boogie Nights kind of way. The second half, however, is the very definition of endurance match, with repeated rapes, beatings, humiliations and endless suffering bestowed upon Linda. We see how these events have beaten her into the person she becomes at the end, as invisible in her mousiness as she used to be in her naivety. Since we’re (essentially) watching the same story twice, the effect seems to be more of “do you believe A or B?” than an attempt to enlighten.
For the record, I don’t think there’s ever any doubt as to which version is the “truth”: the entertainment industry (in general) and the porn industry (in particular) are well-known for grinding up and spitting out tortured souls. I wonder, however, how much more impactful the film could have been if its creators would have had the temerity to give us the full bleak, dark story without easing us into it. It doesn’t seem that Lovelace’s autobiography pulled any punches and it’s kind of a shame that the film did.
First things first: this is one of those films that feature multiple titles. In a completely bizarre twist, however, the title that I saw appears to be the least available of the two. I streamed this modest little thriller under the name Blindsided but any and all related promotional material, including the image above, come from the other title: Penthouse North. In truth, both titles are absolutely awful but at least the original title wasn’t a groan-inducing pun. From what I can understand, Penthouse North was the original title, although it became Blindsided when sold to cable TV.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the other shoe: apparently, this film was premiered on the Lifetime Network. That’s correct: the Lifetime Network. Despite this little caveat, the film manages to slip in a couple graphic stabbings, several bloody bodies and lots of menace. It also manages to be quite silly.
Our protagonist is Sara, a photo-journalist who loses her eyesight due to a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. The attack is vicious enough to cost her sight, yet not vicious enough to give her so much as a scratch anywhere else on her face. She’s also not big on the whole “dark shades” thing: she starts off a pair at the beginning but loses them early on so that we can focus on her eyes. Or so I’m assuming, since there seems to be no other rational explanation for her just ditching the sunglasses.
On New Year’s Eve, Sara has the misfortune of being trapped in her luxury, penthouse apartment by a pair of complete psychopaths. The psychos have killed her shiftless boyfriend (the scene where she continually and unknowingly steps over his bloody corpse in the kitchen is actually pretty brilliant, much more Hitchcockian than the rest of the film deserved) and are after a fortune in diamonds that he’s hidden somewhere in the apartment. They assume that Sara knows where the stolen diamonds are hidden: she doesn’t. Thus begins a long game of cat-and-mouse as Sara tries to maneuver around the killers, playing them off each other and attempting to prevent her untimely death. Alliances are formed, betrayals are had and much scenery is gnawed.
Blindsided (or Penthouse North) is the kind of film that flooded the DTV market in the ’90s. It features a recognizable box-office star (in this case, Michael Keaton, which was reason enough for me to watch), small-scale and scope (one location, two if you count the roof) and plenty of action. In fact, I was immediately reminded of these type of films when I saw that Dimension Films produced the movie: they’re still around? Wow…that takes me back!
As far as story goes, the film is definitely a ripoff (or homage, if you’re feeling kind) of the far better Wait Until Dark. Wait Until Dark featured Audrey Hepburn as a house-bound, recently blind woman who is menaced by three armed thugs, one played by Alan Arkin. Using the same basic formula but dropping one of the thugs definitely makes for a more economical film but it’s certainly not reinventing the wheel.
There’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with Blindsided and it does have one very big pull: Michael Keaton’s completely villainous turn as Hollander. He may look awful in the movie (I sure hope he just had a rough weekend during shooting) but he brings everything he has to the role, stopping just short of the over-the-top quality he brought to Beetlejuice. He’s genuinely scary, particularly in a nasty scene involving a cat (animal lovers, don’t fret: this has a very happy resolution), and I never doubted the lengths he would go to retrieve the diamonds. His partner, however, was a bit of a mixed bag. Barry Sloane, the actor who portrayed Chad, is a TV actor and there was quite a bit of mugging in his performance. At times, he seems lovelorn. Other times, he’s unnaturally angry. And then there’s his outburst over Hollander’s treatment of Sara’s cat. For a character that always seemed crazier and less in control than Hollander, his sudden swerve into animal lover seems completely unwarranted and more of a deux ex machine than anything.
Will Blindsided (or whatever it’s called) change your life? Absolutely not. Is it an entertaining way to kill 90 minutes? Absolutely. Let me say, however, that the final shot of the film, off the rooftop, may just be one of my favorite moments from a film in years. It’s the very definition of poetic justice and it ended the film on an extremely positive note for me. User results may vary.