It is an unfortunate truth that the late Linda Lovelace's life was forever defined by a 17-day stint in the porn industry, and one can imagine a penetrating biopic being made about her. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Lovelace" isn't it. Here is a film that would love to emulate the sprawling mosaic of Paul Thomas Anderson's '70s-set insider's look at the adult film industry, the 1997 masterpiece "Boogie Nights," but it hasn't the complexity, the funds, the scope or the means to pull it off. Andy Bellin's Lifetime movie-ready script, hitting every predictable beat and big issue without bothering to dig deeper, lets down his actors, many of them primed and ready to give the kind of performances that get awards notices at the end of the year. Regrettably, they are suffocated at each turn by the film's simplistic telling and heavy-handed theatrics.
Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is twenty-one and still living with her parents in small-town Davie, Florida, when she has a chance encounter at the local roller rink with smooth-talking hustler Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). As Linda described their relationship in retrospect, Chuck seduced and controlled her into an increasingly abusive marriage, goaded her into prostitution to pay off debts, and was responsible for getting her cast in 1972's infamous "Deep Throat," the first porn film that managed to work its waycontroversiallyinto the mainstream. Suddenly finding herself the poster girl for the sexual revolution, Linda Lovelace, as everyone came to know her, was born. By the time she escaped her terrible marriage with Chuck several years later, she was ready to start a new chapter in her life. She became a new wife and mother, wrote a tell-all book called "Ordeal," and spoke out publicly about domestic violence and the anti-porn movement. Her place in popular culture had long since been sealed by this point, however. Having tragically passed away in 2002 at age 53 from injuries sustained in a car accident, Linda Lovelace, to many people, is still just "that chick from 'Deep Throat'."
"Lovelace" is an undernourished biographical drama, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman appearing to have spent more time perfecting the period costumes and catchy 1970s soundtrack than on telling a fully formed, well-defined story. Linda's lifeparticularly when she was in her twentieswas anything but ordinary, and yet the struggles she faces before gaining the backbone to stand up for herself are treated with a standard-issue monotony. Amanda Seyfried (2012's "Les Misérables
") exposes more than just her raw emotions in the title role, and it's a part she clearly has taken seriously. It's tough to get a handle on who Linda is, though, because the screenplay forces her for too long into a subservient position without bothering to understand her personal point-of-view. Looking all but completely unrecognizable, Sharon Stone (2007's "Alpha Dog
") is superb as Linda's conservative, tough-love mother Dorothy, while Peter Sarsgaard (2013's "Blue Jasmine
") plays Chuck as the stereotypical slimeball he's supposed to be. The rest of the ensemble would be stronger with better material; as is, who knows what James Franco (2013's "Spring Breakers
") is doing as a young Hugh Hefner, or why Chloe Sevigny (2007's "Zodiac
") would take on the literally one-second, blink-and-you'll-miss-her part of a journalist. By the time the picture ends, viewers will have a better idea of the events surrounding Linda Lovelace's legacy, but will still be in the dark about who Linda Marchiano was and what made her tick. When it comes to big-screen biopics, "Lovelace" never makes it past the shallow end of the pool.