Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Noth, Debi Mazar, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Hank Azaria, Bobby Carnavale, Adam Brody, Robert Patrick, Wes Bentley, Chloe Sevigny, Eric Roberts and James Franco.
Writer: Andy Bellin
Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

Rating: 2.5/5

Perhaps four decades of generating an iconic status put the telling of Linda Lovelace’s life story behind the eight-ball from the get-go, but as this biopic unfolds under the direction of doco-vets Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman, well…there are just not that many surprises.

Lovelace ticks all the boxes that audiences lining up for this sort of sordid content will expect: small town girl, ultra-religious parents, violent boyfriend, exploitative producers. What is lacking is a distinctive point of view that differentiates the biggest name in adult entertainment from every other misguided, abused waif caught up in the maelstrom of the sex-for-profit film industry.

What doubly disappoints is that between them, the directorial duo has some of the most profoundly insightful factual-film explorations of sexual politics of the last 30 years. Grounbreakers such as The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, The Celluloid Closet and the James Franco starrer Howl are all held in enormous regard. That their take on one of the most influential figures of the sexual and, ultimately, social revolution of the early- to mid-1970s should prove so anaemic is the source of greatest dissatisfaction.

There are some potent moments and compelling performances. As Linda, a fearless Amanda Seyfried (clearly not averse to embracing and embodying sexuality, after temptress roles in Chloe and Gone) bares all emotionally and physically in the title role. Hers is a vanity-free performance, the actress proudly displaying the curvier, ‘ungroomed’ preferences of the period and ageing convincingly from the late teens to mid-30s.

Support players waiver between cartoonish caricature (Hank Azaria as director Jerry Damiano; Bobby Carnavale as production go-between Butchie Peraino) and convincing (Robert Patrick and an unrecognisable Sharon Stone as Linda’s parents; Chris Noth’s thuggish money-man). The extended period the film spent in post-production suggests problems, as does the two-sentence appearance of Chloe Sevigny as a TV interviewer and the complete excision of Sarah Jessica Parker, whose portrayal of Gloria Steinhem is totally absent and hints at the deeper exploration of Lovelace’s impact on a generation that fails to materialise. 

Central to the drama is Peter Sarsgaard as the abusive boyfriend, Chuck Traynor; it is a compelling portrayal of a controlling, manipulative brute, but one that was given far more scope by Bob Fosse in 1983s Star 80. That story of slain Playmate Dorothy Stratton casts a vast and superior shadow over Lovelace, to the extent that Eric Roberts, who played the similar role to Sarsgaard’s thirty years ago, has a bit part here.

As a biopic of the woman that brought hardcore pornography to mainstream audiences, Epstein and Friedman’s Lovelace is just far too strait-laced. Given content that screamed out for a vital, ‘Boogie Nights’-style treatment, what we get is a workmanlike biopic that feels TV-safe rather than big-screen daring. Like her alter-ego, Seyfried seemed totally up for the challenge; it is a terrible shame that the material steadfastly refused to go with her sense of all-or-nothing professionalism. 

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