92 min., rated R.
Biopics can be difficult to crack. The essence and so many facets of one titular figure's story are supposed to be captured in a film's ninety-minute to two-hour time slot instead of that of a small-screen miniseries. Same goes for "Lovelace," an adequate but mostly two-dimensional snapshot of the life of a nubile, fresh-faced woman who brought pornography into the mainstream culture. Co-directed by documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film surely boasts an eclectic collection of actors and perfectly recreates the look of the time with Eric Alan Edwards' scratchy 1970s-style lensing and Karyn Wagner's costuming. But for such hardcore subject matter, "Lovelace" divulges some sordid implications without really getting under the skin of Linda Lovelace and never quite lands the impact it's going for.
Amanda Seyfried couldn't have gone in a more opposite direction from her soft trilling as Cosette in "Les Misérables," but here, she is in her most literally adult role (even after the sexually charged "Chloe") as Linda Lovelace. The actress is daring enough for the material, shining with a bright-eyed, girl-next-door sweetness before it's all deflowered and turning in a sympathetic portrayal. When we first meet her as Linda Boreman in 1970, the freckled 21-year-old is living in small-town Davie, Florida, with her parents (Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick). At a roller rink, smarmy, opportunistic hustler/bar owner Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard, demonstrating his wide range) comes along, sweeping her off her feet. After they elope, Chuck shows a group of porn filmmakers her amazing talent from a home video they made in bed and Linda is instantly hired for a job, while Chuck works as the production manager. Obviously, Linda's man turns out to be an abusive slimeball.
Andy Bellin's screenplay keeps shooting years forward without fully shaping the woman we're following. Going on to be better known as Linda Lovelace, she was reborn a star of 1972's high-grossing skin flick "Deep Throat" and ultimately the poster girl for the sexual revolution. Once leaving Chuck who would prostitute his wife, beat her, and control all of her finances, Linda found it in herself to leave the adult film biz behind her and start anew as a new wife and mother, shedding insight into her former life in her tell-all book "Ordeal."
Sharon Stone, almost unrecognizable in deglamorized make-up, is a devastatingly effective standout as Linda's churchgoing mother Dorothy, who shows her daughter tough love, and Robert Patrick gets one touching moment as her more caring father. Supporting parts, mostly those of Linda's makeshift family unit, are solidly filled by Hank Azaria, as "Deep Throat" director Gerry Damiano; Chris Noth and Bobby Cannavale, as the film's financiers Anthony Romano and Butchie Peraino; Adam Brody, as Linda's "short-lasting" co-star Harry Reems; and Debi Mazar as Linda's co-star and make-up artist Dolly. While the actors show up and do their thing, many are left adrift by the material. James Franco, who frighteningly and believably transformed into a cornrowed hustler in "Spring Breakers," is fun to spot but miscast in a cameo as Hugh Hefner, who sees potential in Linda as a real movie star, and Chloë Sevigny, popping up for a second as a journalist, must have gotten trimmed in editing.
"Who's the real Linda Lovelace?" asks a reporter. If "Lovelace" solely set out to paint its focal character as a pitiful victim and later a survivor against domestic violence and porn, then it has achieved its goal as a cautionary tale. However, if it's intended to be a definitive rise-and-fall account, it doesn't deepen as much as knock off bullet points. While the real Linda deserved a better life than earning notoriety for giving fellatio on camera and shouldn't be defined for her seventeen days in porn, the film is a rough portrait in conveying who she was as a person. Maybe read Linda Marchiano's "Ordeal" to find out.
Grade: C +