When it comes to biopics, directors often skew details to make a story pop on camera. A life story requires a degree of cinematic sorcery to avoid seeming like a puppet-plaid documentary. Hollywood’s first major porn star, Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), has a story that begs telling, but joint directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman don’t have a clue how to follow through.
In a 1970s decadently bedazzled with boowop funk and roller disco dazzle, 21-year-old Catholic-educated Linda Boreman is coaxed by yuppie boyfriend Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) into changing her ways, and her name, yielding the literally seminal porn flick “Deep Throat.” Suddenly she’s a star. But when stardom fades, things turn sour.
But who’s the real Linda Lovelace? Epstein and Friedman keep Hollywood’s virulent porn boom at arm’s length and dwell instead on Lovelace’s journey from a prudish innocent overseen by a bible-bashing mother (Sharon Stone) to a guiltless boner-throb that defined an era. It’s a textbook rise-and-fall plot told faithfully. On the plus side, James Franco adds a welcome spark of pizzazz as Playboy‘s Hugh Hefner and Stone steals the show as the staple of maternal judgment Lovelace aches to unhook. But a supporting can’t turn a chapter in social history into a full-bodied work of cinema.
Seyfried’s eyes are bigger than her performance, but in fairness she’s not so much miscast as mismanaged. The largely linear narrative is disrupted by flashbacks, all of which transform a potentially powerful movie into little more than a kind of cinematic Wikipedia entry.
Feature cinema and documentary-making are different forms, but Epstein and Friedman apparently got only got half that memo. The result is a tactless, diluted, dither through a person’s life. Some may say a story speaks for itself, but not when there’s a gag down its throat.