NOTE: This is a reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival.
Although nearly everyone has heard of the 1972 hit porn film Deep Throat, there's a better than average chance that the story of its star, Linda Lovelace, has gone unnoticed. Essentially the world's first porn crossover star, the short time she spent in the adult film industry was marked by incredible celebrity, abuse, and decades of regret. Lovelace, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the duo behind the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl, get a capable performance from star Amanda Seyfried, but thin characterization and lack of any real insight doom the project from the start.
The film opens with an unconvincing montage of news outlets exploring Lovelace's cultural impact, intercut with the mopey porn star staring off into the distance, apparently deep in thought over the same idea. Then it's a jump into Lovelace's strict Florida upbringing, where her innocence is kept under lock and key by her overzealous mother (a haggard Sharon Stone) and blue collar dad (Robert Patrick). We learn that she wasn't always so innocent, and that side of her is fed into by a chance meeting with Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), who charms his way into her life and begins to corrupt her slowly from within.
What unfolds next is basically a stripped down, less effective version of Paul Thomas Anderson's classic, Boogie Nights. Going beyond mere homage, the script flat out cribs whole portions from it in depicting Lovelace's entry into the porn world. Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale play two scummy fixtures of the industry, who nearly pop their cork when Traynor shows them a video tape of her oral expertise. Landing the lead role in Deep Throat, Lovelace consistently chooses her burgeoning celebrity over supposed misgivings and Traynor's degrading physical abuse.
The film never holds her responsible for anything, blaming Traynor or her parents for the choices she made. Whenever they begin to get close as to Lovelace's actual role in her own life, the script bails her out by jumping forward in time a few years. For a biopic that is ostensibly about the changes she made in her life after Deep Throat, we don't actually see much of it, nor do we learn anything new except nothing was ever her fault.
Stylishly shot and including the expected number of 1970s rock hits, it all feels like the directors are merely marking boxes on a checklist. The campy script gives way to campy performances from a plethora of celebrities making distracting cameos, including James Franco in a laughable appearance as Hugh Hefner. Seyfried holds up well in the most adult role she's had yet, but she gets little help from Sarsgaard, who is in full one-note monster mode. Even his afro and muttonchops are angry.
At one point there were two Linda Lovelace biopics being developed at the same time, but this film proves she's simply not interesting enough to carry one feature, let alone a pair of them.