Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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Review: 'Lovelace' goes too far

Lovelace (R) (92 min.) — Linda Lovelace was the first porn celebrity, the uniquely gifted, girl-next-door star of Deep Throat, a cultural phenomenon when released in 1972. Amanda Seyfried gamely impersonates the XXX legend in Lovelace, a resistible work of trash art with a few guilty pleasures nonetheless.

Lovelace is the most conventional feature film that award-winning documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made, and their discomfort shows. The movie's episodic nature, the fits and starts of its drama, are signals that recreating reality isn't their strongest suit. Linda's celebrity, forced upon her by a domineering, abusive husband, is worth examining not exploiting like this.

The good news for fans of overacting is how Peter Sarsgaard plays the husband, Chuck Traynor, working the '70s perm and mustache, snake-eyed and oozing shady intentions. Chuck won't hesitate to literally pimp out Linda, even after she's a household name. His desperation for success by proxy is toxic, and Sarsgaard digs every degrading moment of playing it.

Lovelace takes the mildly interesting approach of telling the publicly perceived story of Linda Lovelace in the first half, then retelling it from her intimate perspective, intimidated by Chuck and shunned by her parents. The movie works better as a Boogie Nights replica than a reworking of Star 80. Seyfried's sunny sexuality carries the former, while her saucer-eyed victim makes the latter more of a drag.

Epstein and Friedman's documentary instincts eventually take over, leading to an extended recreation of Phil Donahue interviewing Linda in 1980, then remarried and expressing her efforts against pornography and domestic abuse. Burned bridges are repaired. As often happens with biopics, juicy late-life material is left to title cards.

The pleasures of Lovelace are in its casting choices, allowing a brio trio like Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale to sleaze up a pivotal scene, and an unrecognizable Sharon Stone to go full Jessica Lange as Linda's shamed mother.

By the time James Franco smirks up Hugh Hefner hosting a Deep Throat party at the Playboy mansion, Lovelace's spot in ham-fisted Hollywood lore is reserved. C+ (Veterans 24 in Tampa)

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

     
     
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