Lovelace is a timid gloss on a hardcore subject — a movie that takes a wild true story and shoehorns it into a formulaic mold. Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who brought so much invention and imagination to their 2010 Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl, approach the life and times of porn icon Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), nee Linda Boreman, as the story of an innocent babe lured into the woods by a big bad wolf. After spotting Linda and a friend (Juno Temple) dancing at a roller skating rink in Davie in 1970, the sleazeball strip club operator Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) romances and eventually marries the 21-year-old ingenue, who is relieved to flee her domineering mother (an unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and her ineffectual father (Robert Patrick).
Oblivious to the strong indications that Chuck may be a bit of a psycho, Linda agrees to fly to New York with him to audition for an adult film. The producers (Chris Noth and Bobby Cannavale) aren’t impressed with her looks. But they are completely astonished by her ability to perform a certain sexual act, leading them to build an entire movie around her called Deep Throat, about a woman whose clitoris was in her throat.
Released in 1972, Deep Throat became a cultural sensation, and the phenomenon turned Lovelace into a superstar. As played by Seyfried, Linda radiated a kind of dim-bulb gullibility that made her an easy target for predators. Buffeted about by the press as everything from feminist icon to shameless whore, Linda seems to drift through her celebrity in a kind of stupor. Later, when the film doubles back and reenacts scenes from a different perspective, we discover the truth about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Chuck, which ranged from physical violence to something much worse.
Lovelace doesn’t lack for star power: Famous actors pop up in brief roles, including James Franco as Hugh Hefner, Adam Brody as Linda’s Deep Throat co-star Harry Reems and Chloe Sevigny as a journalist. But there’s only one truly moving moment in the entire film — a scene in which Linda calls home and her father tells her he went to see her movie, but couldn’t manage to watch it to the end.
The rest of Lovelace is strangely superficial and remote, constantly evoking two other, far better movies: Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s exuberant look at the adult film industry, and Star 80, Bob Fosse’s recounting of the death of Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten at the hands of the opportunist who “discovered” her. The filmmakers’ reluctance to portray their subject in anything other than a saintly light weighs down the picture, rendering Lovelace into a symbolic victim instead of a real person. And although the camera isn’t shy about ogling Seyfried’s nude body, Lovelace is strangely prudish when it comes to sex, presenting it mostly as something that leads to ruin and despair.
For a far more stimulating portrait of Lovelace and the film that made her infamous, track down the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat, which approaches its subject with flair, style and humor. Lovelace’s pious hand-wringing is better suited for a Lifetime TV weepie than the big screen, rendering its eponymous heroine as a perfect blank.
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Juno Temple, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, Adam Brody, James Franco, Chloe Sevigny.
Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman.
Screenwriter: Andy Bellin.
Producers: Heidi Jo Markel, Laura Rister, Jason Weinberg.
A Radius-TWC release. Running time: 92 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, explicit sex, drug use, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Aventura, Tower, O Cinema Wynwood; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Living Room.