By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin August 9, 2013 at 12:02AM
I don't suppose any biopic of 1970s porn star Linda Lovelace could be definitive--there were too many facets to her life, before and after she achieved worldwide notoriety for her "performance" in Deep Throat—but Lovelace makes a good stab. Amanda Seyfried delivers a fearless and sympathetic portrayal of the young woman who is led into very dark places by a smooth-talking hustler named Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Her unusual prowess at fellatio becomes her stepping stone to fame, propelling Deep Throat to unprecedented success at a time when pornographic films were still screened in movie theaters and the Internet was not yet on the horizon.
Screenwriter Andy Bellin and directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (better known for their award-winning documentaries) employ an unusual structure, beginning their film with an audio montage of provocative lines we'll hear again as the story unfolds, then showing how Linda and Chuck began their turbulent journey together. At the midway point they retell the same story, taking the gloves off to reveal the sordid story behind the scenes of Traynor's abuse and exploitation of Linda, and her almost unbearable suffering. Her strict, old-school parents (Robert Patrick and a deglamorized Sharon Stone) offer little comfort and no shelter at the one point Linda attempts to get away from her tormentor.
The 1970s recreation is remarkably good, from costuming and often-hilarious hairstyles (especially on the men) to the details of shooting a porno film—on film. The storytelling also benefits from Stephen Trask's subtly effective score.
Supporting roles are expertly filled by such talented actors as Hank Azaria, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, and Adam Brody, with a brief appearance by Eric Roberts as a reminder of a not-dissimilar story, Star 80.
I've already read complaints that the film doesn't tell enough of the Deep Throat backstory (which is well covered in the documentary Inside Deep Throat), or that we don't learn enough about Lovelace's youth, later problems, and outspoken campaign against pornography and sexual abuse. I didn't feel cheated by any of that, because the movie sets its parameters and meets its goals quite well; some details are provided in the closing titles.
Lovelace seems reasonable and credible, for the most part. (I didn't really buy James Franco in his cameo as Hugh Hefner.) Seyfried, Sarsgaard and company bring their unhappy characters to life and leave us with something to think about. That's as much as I could ask of any biopic.