This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
James Franco appears around the midpoint of "Lovelace" to clarify exactly what's wrong with the movie. He plays Playboy titan Hugh Hefner circa 1972, when Hef would have been about 46 years old. Franco is 35 and looks about 25. He also looks deeply remorseful and sheepish as he strains to deliver "come to papa "-type pick-up lines to porn starlet Linda Lovelace (Amanda Syefried). At that point, I was expecting Nick Cannon to show up as Redd Foxx.
Directed by the great documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, "Lovelace" seems meticulously researched and passionately written. It wants to advocate for women like Linda, who found herself seduced into pornography by a smooth pimp who happened to be her husband, and who molded her into the most famous porn star of the 1970s. "Deep Throat" grossed millions of dollars, none of which went to Lovelace. Mobster financiers, her abusive husband and other exploiters pocketed most of the money.
This film is told in sympathy with the Linda Lovelace who reclaimed her real name, Linda Boreman, and became a feminist anti-porn activist years after her sole porn credit. Unfortunately, despite its passion and purpose, it's executed with so many wrong, false, stale and routine creative decisions that it runs aground by the time Muppet Babies Hef saunters in. Even a "Rashomon" structure that withholds Linda's point-of-view of certain pivotal events delivers its revelations with the bland efficiency of a TV newsmagazine. Standard "'70s movie" music cues crossfade to tell us when a scene has completed its business.
And yet "Lovelace" has some good things going for it. Amanda Seyfried is a natural, quietly explosive actress, and she has a heartbreaking way with close-ups. She brings truth and beauty to a trailer-ready line like "You made me beautiful," said with brimming eyes to the oddly courteous guy (Wes Bentley) shooting her porno posters. Seyfried also turns the mandatory sequence showing the blissful early days of Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) and Linda's courtship into a study of a young, shy, deeply insecure girl breaking out of her conservative family's shackles. The notes she hits aren't surprising, but they are clean and resonant. As Chuck, Peter Sarsgaard does his best to match her intelligent naivete with predatory charisma. The hair and costume departments do their best to back him up with spectacular '70s grooming and leather jackets that might have been stripped off of Thomas Jane's cokehead horndog in "Boogie Nights."