A teen mom tricked (by her own mother, no less) into giving up her child for adoption, Linda (Amanda Seyfried) lives under the rule of her disciplinarian parents. Though a young woman of 21, Linda still has to sneak around behind the backs of her father, John (Robert Patrick), and mother, Dorothy (Sharon Stone, more on her remarkable performance later). Her much older boyfriend, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), introduces her to the world of porn. Soon they’re married and Linda is working with Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria) and co-star Dolly Sharp (Debi Mazar).
We’re lulled into the belief that Linda is happily living the life of a young starlet before abruptly flash-forwarding several years. Linda is taking a polygraph test, alleging all sorts of charges against Chuck and the filmmakers behind Deep Throat. When we jump back to revisit her and Chuck’s wedding night, mired in the misery of forced rough sex, the story is told all over again with a decidedly less innocent atmosphere. She’s abused, drugged, and shunned by her parents. To be fair, they’re understandably horrified to discover their daughter has become a worldwide celebrity based primarily on her fellatio skills. “I had to walk out,” John tells his daughter after admitting he went to see Deep Throat. He probably should’ve known better than to go in the first place.
I’m not sure the non-linear structure does Lovelace any favors. The opening act constitutes mostly wasted time, considering it’s largely a phony set-up before we see Linda’s real story. By the time we get into the seedy reality of Linda’s life, co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman don’t delve deeply enough into her psyche. In fact, were it not for the language and nudity (gratuitous, for the most part—ironic given that the film seeks to denounce sexual exploitation), Lovelace wouldn’t be out of place on the Lifetime Network.
Seyfried credibly conveys Linda’s vulnerability, but Andy Bellin’s screenplay doesn’t give her nearly enough to work with. Sarsgaard has made a career out of playing off-putting characters and nothing he does here tests his abilities. Juno Temple is wasted in an underdeveloped role as Linda’s friend. James Franco drops by for what amounts to a cameo as Hugh Hefner, while Chloë Sevigny makes a walk-on appearance as a journalist. Only Sharon Stone rises above the general mediocrity, investing some much-needed complexity in what is still a thinly-written role. I didn’t realize Stone was in the movie and never once suspected it was her—that’s how deeply she disappears in the role. As Linda’s hard-edged, uncompromising mother, Stone brings a bit of emotional rawness that (despite the depressing subject matter) is in short supply throughout Lovelace.