Few biopic subjects are as evergreen as the rise to and fall from superstardom, and judging from the number of films on the topic, that goes double if the subject is a pinup or a porno filmmaker. (See Star 80, The Notorious Bettie Page, the roman à clef aspects of Boogie Nights, etc.) Lovelace has the relatively novel idea of dividing its mythmaking and moralizing into almost entirely separate acts, courtesy of a metafictional sleight of hand. The slick first half sets viewers up for the usual ’70s groove—naïve Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is discovered by Svengali-like creep Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) while roller-dancing, learns proper oral-sex technique as “Spirit In The Sky” plays on the soundtrack, is goaded by her at-that-point husband to star in Deep Throat, and rockets to fame as the demure face of “porno chic.” But just as Lovelace is becoming the subject of Cronkite segments and Carson punchlines, the movie bumps the needle off the turntable. The second half flashes forward half a dozen years to older Linda taking a polygraph her publisher has requested in connection with her 1980 memoir, Ordeal. The film zips back in time to revise what it’s depicted, adding in such details as domestic abuse, gunpoint threats, forced prostitution, drugs, and financial exploitation.
Who knew the porn underworld wasn’t some sort of fairy tale? Maybe some of the original viewers of Deep Throat, for starters. Perhaps the best way to look at Lovelace is as a corrective directed at the cognoscenti who flocked to see the film in its initial run or after, unaware of the exploitation they were implicitly condoning. Still, actually playing up the story’s tabloid splashiness, only to lay on the scold later, seems like a case of having one’s cake and eating it, too—not to mention a bit cheap. The emphasis is less on Deep Throat’s cultural legacy as a crossover hit, feminist talking point, and Watergate code word (all covered at length in 2005’s Inside Deep Throat) than on the psychological trauma faced by Lovelace herself, and on that level, the film is strong. Seyfried expertly balances the girl-next-door star power that made the real Lovelace an unlikely casting choice with a more subtle strain of fear; Sarsgaard is as terrifying and hiss-worthy as he’s been since Boys Don’t Cry. Moving beyond them, though, the role-playing becomes cartoonish (Hank Azaria as director Gerard Damiano, James Franco as Hugh Hefner), and the film only rarely deviates from familiar biopic conventions. When Linda’s tough-love mother (Sharon Stone, practically incognito) refuses to take her in, blaming Linda herself for being hit, there’s a piercing portrait of just how little support abused women in the ’70s received. In a pivotal moment, even the cops, spotting Chuck and a bleeding Linda on the street, merely ask for her autograph. No word on whether a proposed Lovelace biopic starring Malin Akerman would also feature that money shot. How many times can this story be marketed?