That is art,” breathes porn producer Jerry Damiano (Hank Azaria) on seeing Linda Lovelace’s infamous “sword-swallowing” party trick for the first time.
But thanks to Lovelace’s modest cutaways, reaction shots and vast wigs, you won’t also be getting an eyeful. Because this twisty, sympathetic biopic of the notorious ’70s porn princess is more arthouse than grindhouse.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ( Howl ) get intimate with Linda’s tormented history, not her tonsils, and the results are riveting. There’s a breathless quality and pitch-perfect period feel right from the get-go.
Released from strict religious parents (an unrecognisable Sharon Stone as Mum) by marriage to blustering pimp Chuck Traynor (a swaggering Peter Sarsgaard), naïve teenager Linda (Amanda Seyfried, artless and utterly charming) flowers sexually.
Traynor parlays her ‘speciality’ into Mafia-backed porn stardom: Linda’s role in carnal comedy Deep Throat (1972) turns her into a media sensation... then the movie pulls its big stunt – rewinding, Rashômon- style, to show us the private pain under the public story.
Choked, raped, and violently coerced by an increasingly jealous Traynor, it becomes clear that Linda isn’t a poster girl for sexual liberation. She’s a sex puppet, determined to quit an abusive marriage.
Sarsgaard gives a deftly multi-layered performance, showing the fear fuelling his rages, as the superb seyfried reveals raw emotions past roles never hinted at.
Despite some crafty cameos (Robert Patrick as Seyfried’s repressed father, Chris Noth as a steely movie mogul), none of the other performances register deeply.
And at a skinny 92 minutes, stray scenes suggest Epstein and Friedman axed a strand about Deep Throat’s cultural impact to concentrate on the central relationship.
Worryingly, for a movie obsessed with truth-telling, Lovelace also ignores the competing accounts of its heroine’s porno past, privileging only her own version.
From sweet young thing to porn superstar in just one movie? Now that takes some swallowing.
Seyfried and Sarsgaard excel in a biopic that focuses on the hard times rather than the hardcore, and leaves you feeling that there’s a lot more to say.