Sundance Review: 'Lovelace'

If you're looking for sensationalism and sex, you might want to keep looking. "Lovelace" is based on the life of "Deep Throat" porn star Linda Lovelace, yes, but it's more an exploration of her abusive marriage to Chuck Traynor, and a look at how the desire to please allows our hearts to overrule our minds.

Told through flashbacks and re-flashbacks, we meet Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) in her later life as she's preparing to write a book on her experiences in the porn industry. In the '70s, Linda is a happy, carefree young woman who loves spending time with her best friend (Juno Temple) and who lives in the shadow of her overbearing mother (Sharon Stone). When a handsome and vibrant man offers her a chance at a life on her own, she relents, becoming wife to Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Traynor has big plans for Linda, and one of them involves exploiting her newfound sexual talents for profit in the porn industry. Though all may seem bright and cheery at the outset, Linda is dragged under by life and treated brutally by Traynor. She may be the world's most famous porn star, but she struggles to survive amidst a host of secret troubles.

Seyfried is excellent as the eager-to-please Lovelace, wanting only to make her husband happy and to be a big-time star. Seyfried the actress recedes into the role, presenting us only with pure Lovelace — fragile, innocent despite it all and incapable of escaping the life she's forced into. Though Sarsgaard is incredibly terrifying as her abusive, money-obsessed husband, he needs to get out of the psychotic, wounded man trade. Yes, he's a wonderful actor, but it's beginning to feel like Sarsgaard is being pushed into a tiny, menacing corner. There's a few bright moments in the rest of the cast, such as Adam Brody as Lovelace's costar and Sharon Stone as the unrecognizable, unrelentingly cruel mother who sets the stage for Lovelace's descent into darkness.

The reactions to the domestic violence that Lovelace suffers has some disturbing overtones, likely a product of the times she was living in. Her mother asks her point blank at one point what she did to make her husband mad, and Lovelace is tongue-tied. Lovelace attempts to escape her life with very little help from others. Though the filmmakers never quite come out and say it, it seems as if perhaps other characters take it in stride as a side effect of the industry. The film does a decent job of balancing the assumptions of fame and beauty with the bleakness of Lovelace's life, as detailed in her autobiography "Ordeal." Though we track with Lovelace through a number of years, we gain very little insight into the person she became as a result of the incidents.

The film suffers a bit from jumping around, and oddly, a lack of both sexiness and point of view that eventually just fizzles out into a merely mediocre movie. The sex feels just as empty and unpleasant as one might imagine. The classic bait-and-switch works; if you think you're going to be watching a sexy film about the porn industry, and "Deep Throat" in particular, it certainly sets you straight on the record, according to Lovelace. "Lovelace" is an acceptable exploration of a moment in time, but little more than that.

Grade: B-