Lovelace, the new film biography of the woman who starred in the most famous porn film of all time, Deep Throat, struggles to find novelty in a story that plays as depressingly familiar.
It's the "pretty young thing corrupted by a monstrous control freak" tale that follows Linda Boreman from not-quite-innocent girl to porn star Linda Lovelace, her troubled life afterward and her late-life redemption.
Her real life was messier than even that suggests. But this brief, sketchy movie about that "anything goes" era of the 1970s can never decide whether it wants to be history, amusing satire or tragic cautionary tale.
Amanda Seyfried makes it worth watching, seriously sexing up her image with a fearless turn as a naïve beauty with low self-esteem who gained fame but not fortune for making a dirty movie that seemingly all of America took in.
Linda and her family — an unrecognizable Sharon Stone as her worn, bitter and unforgiving mother, Robert Patrick as her forgiving but disappointed dad — have moved to Florida, she says, to escape the scandal of Linda having a child out of wedlock. Now, she's hanging with a wild child (Juno Temple) whose partying, sexually active ways put Linda on the radar of sleazy operator Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). He charms her, teaches her about sex and pushes her into porn.
Casting the always-good Sarsgaard as Traynor works against the film in that he has played exactly this sort of guy before, in An Education. There's a "seen that" feeling to the character and performance as Chuck threatens Linda any time she wants to know about what he really does for a living.
The scenes about filming Deep Throat are never quite as playful as the acclaimed documentary Inside 'Deep Throat (2005). But Hank Azaria is quite funny as the delusional, wig-wearing director, Gerard Damiano.
"That is art, baby!"
Bobby Cannavale is amusing as the producer who witnesses Linda's oral skills for the first time and blurts, "We are all gonna win Oscars!"
Lovelace's filmmakers laugh through the making of the junky farce Deep Throat mainly through incredulous reaction shots of the director, crew and producers (Chris Noth is a money man).
And then the ugly side shows up. This part of the story is a series of confusing flashbacks within flashbacks, all hinging on a lie-detector test.
Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have two Oscars for their documentary work (The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads). But this "based on a true story" feature, like their Allen Ginsberg bio-drama Howl, is neither satisfying as drama nor irrefutable as history, thanks to the melodramatic script by Andy Belin (Trust). The sinister undercuts the silly, and the righteous redemption is shortchanged.
The blur of history, news clips about the era, the whirl of premieres, parties and Johnny Carson's monologue jokes about Deep Throat captures the time. But some of the stunt casting — James Franco as Hugh Hefner — fails.
Through it all, though, Seyfried dazzles as a woman hiding the fear and showing off her low self-esteem with every see-through dress. One moment, with the photographer shooting pictures for the movie's poster, she lets us see Lovelace as she saw herself — freckled, ordinary, but "beautiful" for the first time.
It's too short to do justice to its subject, but in an era when young women build careers and get rich off "secret" sex tapes that somehow make their way onto the Internet, maybe that's all this subject deserves. Lovelace was but an aberration, an amusing, then quaintly grim footnote on our way to a Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian future.
R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and some domestic violence. Millennium. 1:33. Kentucky.