*** (out of four stars)
Pretty much everyone knows the name Linda Lovelace from the landmark adult film "Deep Throat." And I'll raise my hand as someone who was otherwise clueless about her.
If nothing else, the funny and upsetting "Lovelace" does a good job of setting the record straight about the person behind the '70s late-night talk show punchlines. It feels honest and neither exploitative nor giggly. "Lovelace" is an entertaining and tragic story about one of the best-known names in porn who, in fact, spent fewer than three weeks in the business and never wanted to do it in the first place.
Again proving her strength and worthiness as a star, Amanda Seyfried plays the titular young woman, who at 21 left her parents' Florida home after meeting and soon marrying Chuck Traynor. This secretly-sleazy ball of charisma was so begging for Peter Sarsgaard to play him that I'm relieved that's what happened. For a while, the script by Andy Bellin ("Trust") parallels "Boogie Nights" too strongly, and despite Seyfried's commanding performance "Lovelace" struggles to connect the dots -- more in terms of how Linda moved on after her brief stardom than how she wound up there in the first place. Linda's at first perceived as a "sexy Raggedy Ann" who looks too real to fulfill a fantasy, until producers see her in action.
Adam Brody (whose character changes his porn name from "Dick Long" to "Harry Long" because it's less obvious), Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria and Chris Noth deliver great supporting work as various adult industry players, and James Franco, ever-skilled at blending amusement and discomfort, makes an impact in a small role as Hugh Hefner. In only about 85 minutes, "Lovelace" authentically chronicles a woman who had a quick, painful road from finding oral sex disgusting to possessing the most famous throat in the country.
"You're going to love it," Chuck says initially when trying to persuade Linda to service him. "Don't forget to breathe." The effective sorrow of "Lovelace" is seeing how long it actually took for someone to look out for Linda's interests, even as she was starring in a film about a woman finally discovering sexual fulfillment. Needless to say, there's nothing arousing about exploitation.
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