Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany
Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Friday, January 31, 2014

Now on Netflix Instant: Lovelace Movie Review

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace with James Franco as Hugh Hefner

     Naturally, when a movie called Lovelace came out it caught my attention, even if I didn’t feel the need to rush out and see it. First of all, it suffered middling to bored reviews, and secondly, this chick has already had her pound of flesh from me. If the film did well, it seemed to me,  I could be facing a future much like my past: blow job jokes from here to eternity. For this deep-throated interloper, born Linda Boreman, stole my name when I was but 5 years old!
Sharon Stone as Linda Lovelace's repressive mother

       Thankfully, the flick sunk like a (sharon?) stone and I got my chance to see it for free-ish on TV not long after it came out. My Netflix Instant reviews usually involve a certain amount of Monday morning quarter-backing, and this one will be no exception. But before I get into all the things that rendered Lovelace a predictable commercial failure, I'll confess that I found it unexpectedly moving at times. But then again, I’m a Lovelace, always have been, always will be. "Linda Lovelace," on the other hand, died in a car crash in 2002 as Linda Marciano.
    In a time when we have all agreed to find the excesses of the Seventies delightfully daft, not to mention prettily promiscuous, Lovelace dares to be drab. In spite of the inevitable tacky bright prints worn by the actors, this is a  film largely drained of color, with a brownish wash over the whole thing. This is not Boogie Nights,  nor is it the Academy Award nominated American Hustle.       
Amy Adams in  American Hustle
Amanda Seyfried does show her breasts, but briefly, and in dispiriting circumstances. There is nothing remotely like the kick of Heather Graham  skating topless as Roller Girl. And in place of the radiant Amy Adams, Seyfried is shrouded in dyed dark hair, dark contact lenses and prominent freckles (Lovelace was no looker).  In the latter portions of the film, she’s shrouded in feminist shrouds.


Linda Lovelace in the second half of her career, as an anti-porn activist
The music in Lovelace, while prominent, is not joyful or nostalgic, as in the other, more successful throw-back films, but is used mainly as ironic counterpoint to the action on screen (that is, we might get a groovy song like Ring My Bell while Lovelace is getting gang raped). Actually, I made that up; I mean the actual song, not the ironic counterpoint or the gang rape. While American Hustle has Elton John songs, used to soaring, almost operatic effect, Lovelace doesn’t feature instantly recognizable period hits. “Spirit of the Sky,” played while she gets her first lesson in fellatio, is the most recognizable by far and the only one I remember.
    Where American Hustle celebrates the scrappy art of the small time hustler (very 70s!), the real life hustler of Lovelace, her husband and sometimes pimp, Chuck Traynor, is far from sympathetic. He’s much closer, in fact, to the real life Paul Snider, the subject of Star 80. As played by Eric Roberts Snider was an unattractive fellow, dangerous when cornered, culminating in the ugly rape/murder scene of Playmate Dorothy Stratten. Lovelace, while not nearly as accomplished Star 80, is close in spirit to Fosse’s film, and  is similarly concerned with the dark side of the sexual revolution industry. There is deliberate overlap between the two films, as Eric Roberts makes an appearance here administering the polygraph Lovelace must pass for her publishers. Hugh Hefner, a pivotal presence in Star 80, appears in Lovelace as well (played by James Franco), reinforcing that film’s disturbing notion that even that most air-brushed, lucrative branches of the porn industry, such as Playboy, demand a de facto farm team of small-time hustlers, pimps and prostitutes to draw from.  Or Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, if you want to get Cher about it.

Eric Roberts in Lovelace
The only thing experimental about this earnest film lies in its unusual structure: the first half treating Lovelace’s rise to celebrity, the second half deconstructing that rise from her later perspective, as expressed in Ordeal. As I recall, this structure was widely criticized, with critics asking which version we were supposed to believe. I disagree, however;  I don't find the two versions all that hard to reconcile, and the shift in tone seems true to my lived experience of her story. The first I heard about her was as a child, with adults giggling naughtily at the name Lovelace (mine). This Linda Lovelace seemed fun if slightly threatening. By the time Ordeal came out I was 13; this time around her name seemed to signify something grim and possibly fraudulent. It was strange to be reminded of the widespread resistance to Lovelace’s memoir when it came out. What I find astonishing at this point is that people found her story hard to believe. Her story in fact seems familiar to the point of inanity:  that she had come from an unhappy family, met a charming man who made her promises about a new life and stardom but instead fed her drugs and got her involved in prostitution, leading, eventually, to Deep Throat. Jeez, what bombshell will she drop on us next, that her clitoris isn't really in her neck?
    Deep Throat marked the moment when porn entered mainstream American culture. The story Lovelace tells about that moment is not one we particularly want to hear in 2014, when images that would previously have been considered X-rated now hover over public thoroughfares, selling everything from vodka to the plastic surgery you'll evidently need in order to participate. (I'm talking about old-fashioned billboards, but of course our electronic byways are largely porn-powered.)  As I navigate my own daughters along Pacific Coast Highway, I feel moments of sadness about where we're going. And the sadness doesn’t lift, not even as the bouncy, disco-infused “Blurred Lines” comes on the radio.

--Grace Lovelace

Sunday, January 19, 2014

2 Days in New York: Netflix Instant Review


     Whilst perusing the appraisals of my colleagues, A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert regarding the film 2 Days in New York (director and partially written by Julie Delpy)  I am left wishing, not for the first time, I were blonde and/or French. This film, to which I would unhesitantly apply the critical term "serious sack o' merde," instead is inexplicably coddled as "a charming mess" (Scott), who furthermore finds Chris Rock (the one intermittently funny element in the film) a cold and rejecting partner  to the multi talented and bilingual Delpy.  Ebert, too, rewarded this flimsy effort with an obscene number of stars (3 and1/2 out of 4). Au contraire, mon freres.
   Looking over their work I'm concerned, too, that I don't tell you enough of the plot. But do you really need to know that Delpy and Rock work for "The Voice" (local color),   she as a photographer and he as a cultural critic, and that he has not one but two radio shows? Or that her family is visiting from France, her mother has recently died, and her photography exhibit opens that weekend? As far as I'm concerned, these details are beyond the scope of duty, yours or mine, as are the names of the Rock/Delpy characters. Isn't it enough to say there are beaucoup jokes about rude, stinky French people, and that the most entertaining thing for me in the first forty minutes was figuring out which of their children (from previous relationships. There, I told you something plot-related) is named Willow and which is Lulu, and whether the small blond toddler (named Lulu!) could possibly be a boy. Oh, and what the hell Chris Rock is doing in this amateur hour. Isn't he a big star or something?
     Perhaps, as Scott points out, he seems disgruntled here beyond the strict demands of the role. Is he really supposed to be disgusted beyond the point of return by the French sister and her boyfriend using his electric toothbrush as a sex toy? Because we have a long way to go. But I'm fine with it, because he provides, either by improvising lines or simply by his delivery, a few, if not laughs, then smiles. Something existentially missing from all the madcap Franco-American blather.
     In its own way, Netflix is a time machine. Not the cool kind, that takes you back to another century or millennium, but a more modest sort that delivers you 18 months in the past. Time enough, however, to separate the wheat from the hype, and, given the interim passing of Roger Ebert, to remind us that we don't have time for this nonsense.
     Through my Netflix time wormhole,  I would also urge 2012 Julie Delpy to calm down. In spite of her well-founded anxiety--based on a scene where a critic savages her photography exhibit as poorly executed and not showing her tits enough--that she's producing a stinker here,  she will move on to the well-regarded Before Midnight in 2013. She will do fine work as a writer and actress; she will show her tits; she will be nominated for a Golden Globe.
Update 2014: She won't win.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Guilt Trip: Netflix Instant Review

     It seems to me there should be a more relaxed standard for measuring Netflix Instant films. The theatrical experience, involving as it does significant outlay of cash, as well as dragging your ass to a crowded venue with possible gunplay, quite naturally demands a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down. But the home theater experience seems to call for something a little less definitive, say a stick figure reviewer in various degrees of proneness on a sofa. Eyes open, strictly optional.
     When The Guilt Trip was released in 2012 it was savaged by the critics as predictable and lame, but on a leather recliner with dog and husband, the film reveals new virtues. In what must be one of the most mellow road trips of all time, Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand cross the country together as he tries to market a new organic cleanser that he, a chemist, has devised. Now, don't get me wrong, this plot is deeply tiresome. I can tell you most of the ingredients that go into "ScieOClean" -- coconut and soy and something else, maybe cilantro -- because we are inexplicably forced to watch his spiel again and again.  Yet even here, the weak point of the film, I see a metaphor for the gentle pleasure of The Guilt Trip; in place of the corrosive, blasted hilarity of the Fockers or Hangover comedies, the films that it most readily suggests, this movie does its job gently, in an environmental and nap friendly manner.
     The joys of  The Guilt Trip lie almost entirely with its two principals,  Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. While not a huge Babs fan, I do recognize her legendary status, and I have grown up alongside that legend. The movie has a lot of fun with her persona. Instead of Barbra the accomplished perfectionist, renowned connoisseur and world traveler, we get the thoroughly mundane Joyce Brewster, who delights in trips to the Gap and collecting ceramic frogs. Streisand revels in  a series of unflattering jogging suits and t-shirts. Is she wearing a fat padding? Probably, but I dearly hope not. In short, Streisand's constantly undercutting of her own grandiose image provides a reliable frisson of pleasure throughout this low-key effort. And Seth Rogen has crept up on me as a wry and charming leading man. What other Hollywood man would get all buff to play a purposefully stupid  superhero sendup, in The Green Hornet? Or work repeatedly with women directors, like here, or play nice in other female-centered comedies like Knocked Up? The dude evinces a laudable ability to be simultaneously funny and sane. Maybe because he's Canadian. In any case, he's welcome on my couch any time.
     The Guilt Trip is not high art, but it has enough odd turns and small scale satisfactions for the Netflix experience, especially, I suspect, for those born in the years B.S. to A.B. (Before Seth but After Babs). Happy cocooning.
--Grace Lovelace