'Lovelace' Sundance Film Festival review: Amanda Seyfried brings porn star Linda Lovelace to the screen

amanda-seyfried-linda-lovelace-deep-throat-radius-sundance-film-festival-2013.jpgThere's a big difference between being a porn star and playing a porn star as Amanda Seyfried demonstrates in "Lovelace" [premiereing at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival], the skin-deep bio-pic about "Deep Throat" star Linda Lovelace.

For one, Seyfried can act (usually not a prerequisite for porn). For another, the risque material in "Lovelace" is kept to a minimum. Although the film explores some of the shooting of "Throat," Lovelace's troubled relationship with older husband Chuck Traynor ( Peter Sarsgaard) and Lovelace's sudden celebrity as a sex icon, it's a generally tasteful and largely conventional based-on-a-true-story kind of movie, not much different than you'd see on HBO in any given year. Seyfried has several topless scenes, but it's nothing compared to what Lovelace is most famous for.

The directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman previously made the unconventional Allen Ginsberg bio-movie "Howl," starring James Franco as the famed Beat poet whose writing went to trial on obscenity charges. That film had an original three-pronged structure (involving animated renderings of Ginsberg's work and a dramatization of the trial in which he was not involved) which kept Franco off screen for significant stretches of time.

"Lovelace" isn't as audacious, and Seyfried carries the entire film start to finish, but it doesn't tell its story in a completely straightforward fashion either. First, we see the fantasy: Lovelace "discovered" and wooed by Traynor, Traynor pitching her special talents to director Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria) and producer Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale), the shocking smash success of "Deep Throat" turning Lovelace into both a Johnny Carson punchline and an honored guest of Hugh Hefner (James Franco). Her traditionally religious mother (Sharon Stone) and ex-military father (Robert Patrick) are horrified, but Lovelace becomes a star.

But that's not the whole story. After reaching the point when "Deep Throat" becomes a sensation, the movie backtracks to fill in suspicious gaps in the story. The bruises Linda had on set, the loud noises coming from the hotel room she shared with Traynor, how quickly she transitioned from a shy and somewhat inexperienced girl into a porn star -- it was all the result of Traynor's physical, emotional and psychological abuse.

It's a reasonably clever structure that mirrors the public awareness of Lovelace. At first, she seemed like a fun-loving sex idol embracing her role in the "Deep Throat" phenomenon. But later, Lovelace went on to publish the memoir "Ordeal," which detailed her abusive relationship with Traynor and the part he played in forcing her to make porn, and she became a strident anti-pornography activist.

"Lovelace" doesn't deal much with the real Lovelace's activism and it doesn't take a strong stance one way or another on porn. Instead, it's really the story of a young woman finding herself. Lovelace is dominated by her mother in her early years, dominated by Traynor as a young woman and, in a way, dominated by the media when she becomes famous. It's not until she leaves it all behind and focuses on what she really wants -- a family, the ability to find her own voice and tell her own story -- that she discovers who she is.

It's a solid message believably conveyed every step of the way by Seyfried's fully committed performance -- she has empathy for Linda, and we do too, even if her actions are sometimes baffling -- but the film sidesteps the true complexity of the issue, and despite Sarsgaard's best efforts, Traynor frequently comes off as a cartoon of '70s sleaze. As a straightforward story of sudden fame and the darkness lurking behind the scenes, "Lovelace" goes down easy. But it's difficult not to wish for something deeper.

"Lovelace" was acquired for release by The Weinstein Company's RADiUS, which will release the film in theaters and on demand sometime this year.

More Sundance reviews:
"Prince Avalanche"
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"
"Kill Your Darlings"
"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete"
Photo/Video credit: Sundance
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