MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018) -Good-Natured Sequel Starts Slow, Finishes Strong

1

 

mama_mia_here we go again

Guilty pleasure alert!

I really liked MAMA MIA! (2008) when it came out ten years ago.

I mean, it had a fun cast, led by Meryl Streep, and it included hammy performances by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard— sure, Brosnan couldn’t sing, but I just looked the other way—and it was also the first film in which I saw Amanda Seyfried, and I became an instant fan. Plus, there were all the ABBA songs, which I have always enjoyed. The film was a pleasant surprise.

Now, ten years later, comes the sequel, MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018).

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN takes place five years after the events of the first movie. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has refurbished her mom’s fabulous home on the Greek island of Skopelos and is planning an opulent open house shindig worthy of Jay Gatsby. However, she’s troubled because things aren’t quite right with her hubbie Sky (Dominic Cooper) as he’s been offered a job in New York City and would rather be there than in Greece with her. Plus, of her “three dads” only Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is present, as both Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) have obligations elsewhere.

And Sophie is feeling the pressure because this party is in honor of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) who passed away a year earlier. Alas, Meryl Streep fans, you won’t see much of Streep here since her character is deceased, but since this is a happy musical, she does get to appear in one scene.

Interspersed with this present day story is a second story told via flashback, Donna’s background story. We follow a young Donna (Lily James) and witness how she first meets Sam, Harry, and Bill, as well as how she finds herself in Greece. The film jumps back and forth seamlessly between both stories.

And that’s pretty much the plot of this one.

As far as stories go, the two told in MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN are rather weak. I found both tales rather flat and nowhere near as engrossing as the fun plot told in the first film, where Sophie invited her three possible dads to her wedding in the hope of learning which one was her real dad. That story worked. The ones here put me to sleep.

Of course, you don’t see MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN for its story. You see it for its song and dance numbers, and for its light upbeat style and humor, and on these fronts, the film doesn’t disappoint. The musical numbers are decent, though not as good as the ones in the first film, and the script provides frequent chuckles.

The best part about MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is that it gets better as it goes along and finishes strong, which goes a long way towards helping you forget about its slow opening. And the reason it gets better is during the film’s third act, the heavy hitters arrive, folks like Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, and their presence adds quite a bit. Even Cher shows up as Sophie’s grandmother, looking tremendous for someone in her 70s. And Cher even gets two musical numbers in this one!

And the film saves the best for last. The final number during the movie’s end credits is one of the liveliest of the film.

Lily James has the daunting task of playing a young Donna, a role previously played by Meryl Streep. Plus, she’s asked to carry half the movie since she has a lot of screen time. James is actually quite good here, which comes as no surprise since she has also delivered strong performances in films like BABY DRIVER (2017) and DARKEST HOUR (2017). She also starred as Lady Rose MacClare on TVs DOWNTON ABBEY (2012-2015).

I also thought Alexa Davies as young Rosie and Jessica Keenan Wynn as young Tanya were both exceptionally good. Wynn is the granddaughter of the late Keenan Wynn.

The males didn’t fare as well.  While Hugh Skinner as young Harry, Josh Dylan as young Bill, and Jeremy Irvine as young Sam, were all okay, none of them were all that memorable.

And none of them make you forget the original actors in the roles.

Both Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard once again have field days in their roles as Harry and Bill, and once they enter the movie for its third act, the fun picks up. Pierce Brosnan gets more serious scenes this time around, as he shares some tender moments with his daughter Sophie, and I’m happy to say, he seems to have improved upon his singing!

Julie Walters and Christine Baranski also reprise their roles from the first movie as Rosie and Tanya respectively, and they’re hilarious once again. I wish they had been in the movie more.

Likewise, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper reprise their roles as well, as Sophie and Sky, but they really don’t make much of an impact.  Cooper isn’t in this one much (probably busy with the TV show PREACHER), and Seyfried, as much as I like her, gets stuck with some of the worst lines in the movie.

Much of the dialogue in this one is pretty bad. Director Ol Parker also wrote the screenplay, and while the dialogue in the flashback sequences is okay, some of the stuff in the here and now is flat out dreadful. And most of these clinkers go to Amanda Seyfried, as well as to Andy Garcia.

Yup, veteran actor Andy Garcia is in this one as well. Sadly, his lines are so bad he doesn’t even sound like a real person. I like Garcia a lot, and I’m glad to see him in movies again. He enjoyed a bigger and better role in the recent comedy BOOK CLUB (2018), where he played Diane Keaton’s love interest. Here, he plays a character named Fernando, and if you’re familiar with ABBA songs, you know where that’s going.

Also, a quick shout out to Maria Vacratsis who steals every scene she’s in as an elderly Greek woman named Sofia.

And if you look fast you’ll see Jonathan Goldsmith show up quickly as Fernando’s brother. While Goldsmith’s acting career dates back to the 1960s, he’s most famous nowadays for his long running stint as “the most interesting man in the world” on Dos Equis beer commercials from 2006-2016.

I can’t say that I liked MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN all that much. I definitely enjoyed its third act and was glad it built towards a strong conclusion, but taken as a whole, its story just never really grabbed me.

Not that it matters in the long run. I saw it in a packed theater on a week night, a theater filled primarily with women of all ages. I think I saw one other man in the theater, and I’m not complaining, mind you. There’s nothing wrong with being surrounded by women of all ages. It was actually pretty nice.

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN certainly played like a sequel, in that it’s not as fresh or as lively as the original. But as long as there’s not a MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO ONE MORE TIME! it’s all harmless good fun.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

GRINGO (2018)- Unfunny Comedy Can’t Generate Laughs

1

Gringo poster

GRINGO (2018) is one of the more unfunny comedies I’ve seen in a while.

Interesting, amiable, even amusing, but funny?  Nope.  And that’s just not a good sign for a comedy.

Harold (David Oyelowo) is an honest and rather naive businessman who finds himself in hot water in Mexico when his dishonest bosses Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) put him in harm’s way when they double cross a Mexican drug lord known as The Black Panther (Carlos Corona).  On top of this, Harold learns that his wife is having an affair with Richard, and she’s planning to leave him. Talk about having a bad day!

Sick of playing by the rules, Harold stages his own kidnapping, hoping to extort ransom money from Richard and Elaine. But Richard sends in his militarily trained brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) to extract Harold from Mexico so he doesn’t have to pay the ransom money. Of course, the The Black Panther’s henchmen really are trying to kidnap Harold. And when Harold crosses paths with an American couple, Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and her boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway), who is involved with a drug deal of his own, things get even more complicated.

Complicated, but not funny.

I’m still in disbelief at how little laughter this movie generated.  I didn’t laugh once, and the audience I saw it with was as silent as if they were taking a nap. Perhaps they were.

First of all, this movie has a fantastic cast, and yet they are pretty much all wasted in a script that for a number of reasons can’t get a laugh to save its life.  GRINGO is marketed as a dark comedy, and that label is somewhat true.  The story is dark, but the tone is light. Screenwriters Anthony Tabakis and Matthew Stone tell a story that has the makings of a riotous comedy, but the jokes and situations fall short time and time again.

David Oyelowo’s Harold is a likable enough protagonist.  He’s definitely a sympathetic character who the audience will relate to and root for, but the situations he finds himself in never rise to the level of uproarious laughter.  His attempts at staging his own kidnapping, for instance, involve hiring a couple of locals to talk tough in the background while he’s on the phone with Richard. Not that comical. Sadly, nearly all of Oyelowo’s comedic scenes fall short. On the contrary, his best scenes are his serious ones, like when he laments to Sunny that the world is upside down as it rewards bad people and punishes the good, a conversation that actually rings true.

Oyelowo just starred in the less than stellar THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018), and he’s probably most known for his powerful performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA (2014). His role here as Harold is largely forgettable.

Both Joel Edgerton and Charlize Theron play two of the more unlikable characters I’ve seen in a movie in a while. They’re supposed to be funny, but they’re not.  They’re just callous and mean. Plus they’re excluded from the main action in the story. Rather than being part of the storyline in Mexico with Harold, they spend most of their screen time in their offices speaking on the phone and to other characters.

Likewise, Sharlto Copley’s Mitch is yet another unfunny character.  He’s a former military assassin who’s now found religion, but even this twist adds nothing to the humor.

The Black Panther loves The Beatles, and he often kills his enemies based on their opinions of the Fab Four, but this running gag falls short, mostly because it’s not that funny to begin with. And hearing the name Black Panther did nothing but distract me throughout, as every time I heard it I found myself wishing I were in the next theater watching Marvel’s THE BLACK PANTHER (2018) again instead of this movie.

Amanda Seyfried plays it straight as Sunny, and she’s likable enough in this role, but sadly it’s a small role and not terribly important.  She’s a very talented actress and deserves better roles than this.

And Harry Treadaway, who played Victor Frankenstein on the TV show PENNY DREADFUL (2014-2016) looks completely out-of-place here as Sunny’s drug dealing boyfriend Miles.

GRINGO was directed by Nash Edgerton, Joel’s older brother, and he does an okay job. The biggest problem with the film is the script, but still there are some odd choices from the director’s chair.  There are a couple of scenes that end in odd places, like one between Elaine and fellow businessman Jerry (Alan Ruck) in a bar, where Jerry is hitting on her but she turns the tables on him in what looks like a potential hilarious moment but before it reaches this climax it just ends without the expected payoff.  Likewise, there are several scenes between Harold and Sunny where you expect more to happen but it doesn’t.

I certainly didn’t hate GRINGO.  I liked the character of Harold, and his plight in Mexico was fairly amusing, but it’s a story that ultimately plays like a light drama rather than a dark comedy.  The laughs just aren’t there.

As such, GRINGO is probably my least favorite film of 2018 so far.

—END—

 

 

 

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TED 2 (2015)

0

Here’s my Cinema Knife Fight review of TED 2, which appeared at cinemaknifefight.com this past weekend.

—Michael

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  TED 2 (2015)Ted 2 poster

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE:  A Comic Con in some big city.  Amidst a crowd of enthusiastic fans dressed as their favorite superheroes, STAR TREK and STAR WARS characters, sits MICHAEL ARRUDA at a table next to the LOST IN SPACE Robot.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to today’s Cinema Knife Fight column.  No, that’s not L.L. Soares dressed as the LOST IN SPACE Robot.  That’s the actual Robot!

ROBOT:  It is I.  The Robot!  Here as a guest on Cinema Knife Fight.

MA:  Happy to have you, and we’re here today because one of the scenes in today’s movie— TED 2— takes place at a Comic Con like this one, and my friend here, the LOST IN SPACE Robot, happens to be in that scene.  It might be my favorite part of this movie.

ROBOT:  Affirmative!  I am the life of this movie.

MA:  Well, I wish you were.  You don’t have any lines or anything, but I was still happy to see you.

ROBOT:  That’s right.  I didn’t have any lines.  What was my agent thinking?  There just aren’t any good roles for an aging robot, these days!

MA:  Well, even you couldn’t have saved this movie.

Yep, today on Cinema Knife Fight, I’m reviewing TED 2, and I’m flying solo this week because L.L. Soares had sense enough to skip this one.

I’m going to get right to the point: I hated TED 2.

ROBOT:  Hate?  Hate is a strong word.  I advise you to avoid using it, Will Robinson.

MA:  It’s okay.  This isn’t a LOST IN SPACE episode.  We can say hate here.  And I’m not Will Robinson.

ROBOT:  Of course you are not!  Did I say that you were?  Eh hem.

MA (to audience):  I think he’s having a senior robot moment.

ROBOT:  I heard that!

MA:  As I was saying, I did not like TED 2 at all.  It’s one of my least favorite movies of the year.  Why, you ask?  Well, read on!

TED 2 is the sequel to the hit movie TED (2012), the Seth MacFarlane comedy about a toy stuffed bear come to life.  I was not crazy about TED, but I enjoyed the foul-mouthed talking bear, as I found him quite funny, and I enjoyed the way he interacted with his best buddy John (Mark Wahlberg).  They were a hoot together.  What I didn’t like about it was its story which I found to be a bore, a tale of John trying to choose between Ted and his girlfriend.  Seriously?  But the bear was funny.

Now comes the sequel, TED 2.  Ted is now married, while John is divorced.  Ted’s marriage is not going that well, so he takes a co-worker’s advice and decides he and his wife should have a baby because having children will bring a troubled couple closer together.  Really?  Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Ted, of course, since he’s a toy bear, can’t have children, and so he and John concoct a plan to steal sperm from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in a scene that is flat out weird and way too creepy to be funny.  When their attempt fails, John agrees to donate his own sperm, but then Ted learns that his wife Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) cannot have children, so they decide to adopt.  They are turned down because in the eyes of the law, Ted is not a person and so he can’t adopt a child.

They decide to take Ted’s case to court, to have the legal system declare him a person, and so they hire a young attorney Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to take on the case.  The rest of the movie follows their efforts to have Ted declared a person, and they have to overcome one obstacle after another, including the return of Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the psycho from the first movie who was obsessed with Ted, and he’s back again, still trying to tear Ted away from John.

So, why isn’t TED 2 funny?

I don’t think I have time in one review to list all the reasons.

Let’s start with the humor.  It’s pretty much the lowest common denominator of humor.  Drug jokes, bathroom jokes, and sex jokes, and as for the rest, it is simply not creative enough to get laughs.  It’s almost as if Seth MacFarlane thinks his reputation at being a “bad boy in comedy” is enough.  If he’s vulgar and shocking enough, everything else will fall into place. Well, it’s not enough.  The jokes have to be funny, and in this movie, they are not.  And that’s the number one problem with TED 2.  It’s simply not funny.

There are jokes galore.  They’re nonstop, which makes the fact that the film didn’t make me laugh all the more amazing.

The film tries to be creative with its humor, and there’s plenty of star power here, but oddly none of it works.  There’s a cameo with Liam Neeson shopping at the supermarket discussing with Ted if it’s okay for him to eat Trix breakfast cereal since he’s not a kid.  Trix are for kids, get it?  Ha Ha.  Not.  I think I laughed when I first saw Neeson because of the potential this scene had, but then it went nowhere.

(LIAM NEESON walks by the table.)

NEESON:  I understand you didn’t like my cameo.

ROBOT (Points to MA):  He didn’t.  I liked it just fine.

MA:  No.  I didn’t like it.  I’m surprised you even did it.

NEESON:  I have bills to pay.

MA:  Don’t we all.

NEESON:  Maybe you would have liked it better if we used a different cereal.  Fruit Loops, maybe.

MA:  Follow your nose.

NEESON: Are you making fun of my nose?

MA:  No.  It’s the line from the Fruit Loops commercials with Toucan Sam.

NEESON: You might want to be careful with what you say.  I put the last guy who criticized me in the hospital.

ROBOT:  Danger!  Danger, Will Robinson!

NEESON:  Just sayin.  (Exits.)

MA:  Don’t sweat it, Robot.  He’ll get over it.

Anyway, then there’s the conclusion at Comic Con.  This sequence should have been hilarious.  It includes a slapstick fight in which fans dressed as comic book and science fiction characters duke it out, and so we see the Lost in Space Robot tangle with a Dalek from Dr. Who, superheroes and Star Trek characters going at it, and even Godzilla gets in on the act.  It’s a geek’s dream!  But it’s not funny.

Patrick Warburton returns from the first movie, once again playing Guy, and in this film Michael Dorn (Worf from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) plays his gay lover.  There’s a gag in the Comic Con sequence where Warburton dresses as The Tick (the title character he played in the short-lived TV series in the early 2000s) and Dorn dresses as Worf, and they go around the convention tripping people and pouring drinks on them all the while insulting them.  This is supposed to be humorous.  It’s not.  It’s painfully unfunny!

(WORF approaches.) WORF:  It is not honorable for a Klingon to poke fun at himself!

MA:  So, you saw TED 2?

WORF:  TED 2?  What is that?

ROBOT:  TED 2 is an American comedy written and directed by Seth MacFarlane.  It stars Mark Wahlberg and—.

WORF:  Enough!  I do not care about such trivial matters as motion pictures!

MA:  So, what were you talking about when you said Klingon’s shouldn’t poke fun at themselves?

WORF:  I was talking about him!  (Points to a Klingon performing Karaoke in front of an audience).  He is a disgrace!

MA:  Yup.  He can’t hold a tune to save his life, but he’s not really a Klingon.  He’s a fan dressed as a Klingon.

WORF:  Klingons do not have fans!  We have adversaries and enemies!  (Exits.)

ROBOT:  He suffers from a maladjusted disposition.  In short, he’s a grump!

MA:  I’m going to continue now with the review.

In the first film, Mark Wahlberg and Ted were funny together.  They’re not here.  All the jokes seem rehashed.  I like Mark Wahlberg a lot.  It was painful to watch him play this role.

Likewise, I’m a big Amanda Seyfried fan, and again, it was excruciating to see her play this awful role.  In one scene for example she’s reduced to smoking pot from a bong shaped like a penis.  Speaking of penises, there’s a running gag about them in this film which has to do with internet searches and what pops up whenever you do a search on the internet.  All I kept thinking is this is the best a guy like Seth MacFarlane could come up with?

It gets worse.

We have to see lots of scenes where Ted argues with his wife Tami-Lynn, and she throws things at him and swears at him nonstop with her South Boston accent.  She’s reduced to a bad stereotype, and these scenes are also painful to watch.

Sam Jones, Flash Gordon himself is back from the first movie, only this time his scenes are as funny as Ming the Merciless.  Also back from the first movie is Bill Smitrovich as Ted’s boss Frank.  In the first film, Smitrovich’s scenes were a highlight and were laugh-out loud funny.  He’s reduced to one scene in the sequel, and it’s a straight scene, no comedy or jokes involved.  Really?

Giovanni Ribisi is back again as psycho Donny.  A lot of people liked Donny in the first film.  I thought his subplot was the worst part of the first movie.  In TED 2 Donny is still out to get Ted, and I still don’t care.

Even Morgan Freeman shows up.  What are all these people doing in this movie?  Does Seth MacFarlane have compromising photographs of these folks?

Freeman delivers a dramatic courtroom monologue about why Ted should be considered a person.  Now we get to one of the most insulting parts of TED 2, the parallels that this movie makes between Ted’s plight and the civil rights movement.

Are we supposed to take this story about Ted seriously?  Absolutely not, which to me, makes the references in this movie to the plight of those fighting for equal rights throughout history, offensive.  Well, maybe offensive is too strong a word, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. TED 2 as a vehicle for social commentary is like having Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as the poster boys for special education.  No.

Only John Slattery from TV’s MAD MEN comes out okay.  Slattery plays a smooth talking winner-take-all district attorney, and he plays the role straight.  He has his one scene and pretty much makes sense as he makes his case convincingly as to why Ted is not a person.  Slattery might be the only person in this movie who doesn’t embarrass himself.

And regarding the “star” of this one, Ted the Bear, the CGI creation performed by Seth MacFarlane, he was my favorite part of the first movie, but sadly, he’s nowhere near as funny the second time around.  In fact, I found him flat out annoying in this sequel.

I did something during TED 2 I hardly ever do in a movie.  I found myself looking at my watch, and I was shocked to see that only one hour had gone by.  It felt like two.  Worse, TED 2 is a two hour movie, and so there was still yet another agonizing hour to go.

TED 2 was written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, and Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild also contributed to the screenplay.  It gives me no pleasure to write negatively about other people’s work, but there’s not much positive I can say about this one.   It all comes down to laughter.  And I simply didn’t laugh during this movie.

One thing I did like about this movie is a large chunk of it takes place in Boston, and the shots of Boston look good.  But I can drive to Boston on my own and don’t need a movie to show me how good it looks.

Want to watch a funny movie that mixes humor with vulgarity and off color jokes?  Watch an old Mel Brooks movie instead.

I give it half a knife.

And it gets half a knife because I like both Mark Wahlberg and Amanda Seyfried, and also because I can’t give a movie which features an appearance by the LOST IN SPACE Robot 0 knives, no matter how bad it is.

And at half a knife, that makes TED 2 the worst movie I’ve seen this year.

Okay, Robot, we’re done here.  I think I’ll take a stroll and browse around.

ROBOT: A good idea.  May I browse around with you?

MA:  Sure.  Come along.  It’ll be fun.

ROBOT:  We are going to browse around.

MA:  Come on, Robot.  I see some cool LOST IN SPACE merchandise over there.  Let’s check it out.

ROBOT:  This is going to be surreal.

—END—

LOVELACE (2013) Paints Sympathetic Portrait of Famous Porn Star

0

Lovelace-2013-Movie-Poster1Streaming Video Review:  LOVELACE (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

LOVELACE (2013), starring Amanda Seyfried as porn star Linda Lovelace, received a limited theatrical release when it opened earlier this year, and word of mouth wasn’t all that enthusiastic.  Some cited faults with the script claiming it danced around the sordid details of Lovelace’s rough life.

 

Still, I was eager to see this one, mostly because I enjoy the work of Amanda Seyfried, having been impressed with her performances in such movies as CHLOE (2009), RED RIDING HOOD (2011), and GONE (2012) to name a few.  And so I sat down to watch LOVELACE the other night on streaming video, and I’m happy to say I didn’t find it disappointing at all.  In fact, it’s a pretty darn good movie.

 

It’s 1970 when LOVELACE opens, and twenty one year-old Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is still living with her parents, Dorothy (an unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and John (Robert Patrick).  When Linda and her best friend Patsy (Juno Temple) decide to go-go dance at a club for fun, they are spotted by a young man named Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) who encourages them to dance professionally.  They decline, but Linda and Chuck become involved in a relationship, one that will ultimately change Linda’s life forever.

 

Linda and Chuck get married, and soon afterwards, with his night club shut down due to prostitution charges, Chuck finds himself desperate for money.  He has ties to the porn industry, and so he attempts to get Linda hired to star in a porn movie, but the producers of the film aren’t interested, claiming she looks too much like the “girl next door,” and that she doesn’t fit the porn prototype, but when Chuck shows them a home movie he shot, which shows off Linda’s “talent,” the producers are impressed and change their minds about hiring her for their next film.

 

Their next film is DEEP THROAT, and it becomes a national phenomenon, propelling Linda to stardom.  Now going by the name of Linda Lovelace, a name given to her by the film’s producers, she amazingly becomes a household name across America, as she’s mentioned on the news by Walter Cronkite and by Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW, much to the chagrin of her parents.  She even becomes the guest of Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who arranges a private screening of DEEP THROAT at his Playboy mansion.

 

But stardom comes at a price.  Chuck becomes more and more abusive towards Linda, as he continually tries to exploit her in an ongoing effort to make as much money as possible.  At one point he even collects money so she can be gang-raped.   He’s not a pleasant fellow.

 

In one of the movie’s more powerful scenes, Linda tries to return home to her parents, but her mother Dorothy won’t allow it.  She tells Linda that she must honor her wedding vow to obey her husband.  When Linda tells her that Chuck beats her, Dorothy asks her daughter what she has done to make her husband beat her.  She sends Linda back home.  Gee, thanks mom!

 

Eventually, Linda breaks away from Chuck and the porn industry.  She remarries and starts a family, and she spends the rest of her life speaking out against pornography and violence against women.

 

I had heard that LOVELACE suffered from a weak script, but I thought Andy Bellin’s screenplay worked just fine.  Two thirds into the film it does jump back in time and uses flashbacks to fill in some of the blanks from earlier in the story, most of these showing Chuck’s dark side and the cruel ways he treated Linda.   I didn’t have a problem with this, as the bulk of today’s television shows use the same style, so it’s nothing I wasn’t used to. 

 

And there are those who felt the film wasn’t dark enough, that it didn’t show us the real horrors of what Linda Lovelace went through, and that the film was somehow “soft” by going with an “R” rating as opposed to an NC-17 rating, but I didn’t feel this way at all.  To me, the film made its point:  Linda Lovelace was abused by her husband and most likely manipulated into the porn industry.  It’s not a pretty story.  I got this without being shown every sordid little detail. 

 

The biggest strength of LOVELACE however is its very strong cast.  I’ve been a fan of Amanda Seyfried for quite a while now, and I really enjoyed her performance here as Linda.  It was a bit of a change of pace for Seyfried and it really showed her range as an actor. 

 

But the strongest performance in LOVELACE belongs to Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck.  Sarsgaard really nailed the role and showed considerable range here as Linda’s sneaky cruel husband.  I’ve seen Sarsgaard in a lot of movies, and his performance as Chuck just might be my favorite.

 

Sharon Stone is just as good as Linda’s mother Dorothy, and with her 1970s hairstyle and clothes she’s barely recognizable. 

 

The fine supporting cast includes Robert Patrick as Linda’s father John, and Chris Noth as Anthony Romano, the man supplying the big bucks to finance DEEP THROAT.  Bobby Cannavale is memorable as Butchie Peraino, the producer of DEEP THROAT, as is Hank Azaria as Gerry Damiano, the guy who wrote the movie.

 

Even James Franco shows up in a throwaway role as Hugh Hefner.

 

Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made a film that does a nice job capturing the look and feel of 1970s culture, and it also has something to say about the dark side of pornography and its treatment of women.

 

It’s interesting to compare LOVELACE with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s DON JON (2013) which also came out earlier this year and also featured a plot about porn.  DON JON took place in 2013, and its view of porn reflects the present day view which, right or wrong, is more accepting of the industry.  There’s much less of a stigma attached to the industry today than there was in the 1970s.  In Gordon-Levitt’s film, porn is portrayed as a near perfect vehicle for sexual gratification. There’s no mention of behind-the-scenes lowlifes like Chuck who abuse women.  

 

LOVELACE is a blunt reminder that underneath the glamour and glitz of the sex film industry, all is not as it seems, and there are dark forces at work that are not at all like the images so boldly displayed on the screen.

 

While not for everyone, LOVELACE is a relevant film that effectively takes us back to a rather ugly time in our history- Vietnam, Nixon, and Watergate- and paints a sympathetic portrait of a woman who incredibly became a household name for her appearance in the most successful porn film of all time.

 

—END—