For their second incursion into non-documentary narrative filmmaking, Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman continue to tell stories of the alternative/underground cultures of post-World War II United States. Better known for their gay-themed documentaries such as The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk, their first "fiction" foray was an intelligent and ambitious but somewhat over-reaching take on Allen Ginsberg's beat poem Howl, which they now follow with a biography of Linda Lovelace, star of the 1970s infamously legendary crossover porn film Deep Throat. 

     Messrs. Epstein and Friedman, along with screenwriter Andy Bellin, structure it not like your standard biopic, but more like a Rashomon-like "twice told tale", in a narrative device that sees the same events through two different lenses: Catholic schoolgirl Linda Boreham's marriage to the shady Chuck Traynor, who would become his manager, and her rise to stardom appear first as the transgressive fairy tale suggested in the public perception, and then through her own adult memories when, after remaking her life as a married working mother, she decided to set the record straight by writing a memoir. It is, essentially, Linda's side of the story that is at the centre of Lovelace: how she married Traynor to find a way out of the oppressive family environment she grew up in, how she fairly quickly found herself out of her depth, not quite aware of what exactly she was getting herself in nor of where it could take her, eventually needing to write her own story and reclaim her identity as Linda Boreman.

     For that reason alone, the casting of Amanda Seyfried, the chirpy ingenue of Mamma Mia! and Les Misérables, as Linda is as inspired as it comes: the actress brings to the part a sweetness and a simplicity that ring true with the way Linda herself became an unlikely, somewhat naïve star, and with her desire to lead a "good life" that led to make some bad choices. It's a tale that would have probably not quite come off as a documentary - plus, the subject had already been covered to some extent in Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's Inside Deep Throat - but despite all the right moves of Messrs. Epstein and Friedman, doesn't quite make it either as a more conventional narrative film. Despite the casting and the period-perfect visuals, even the smart approach to the organising of the narrative, there's a restraint and a rather conventional design of the story as a cautionary tale of domestic abuse that neuters many of the more transgressive aspects to the film.

     There's a sense that the directors are too rooted in the documentary tradition to actually pull off the flights of fancy that a project like this can actually be enriched by, even though Lovelace proves again they're adept at directing actors. Ms. Seyfried's performance - though closer to her reputation than many will think on the surface - will come as a surprise to many and Peter Sarsgaard successfully channels his darker side as Traynor; but it's an unrecognisable Sharon Stone, playing Linda's tough-love mother Dorothy, that best encapsulates the film's qualities, even if ultimately Messrs. Epstein and Friedman don't take them to the limit.

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale, James Franco, Debi Mazar, Chris Noth, Robert Patrick, Eric Roberts, Chloë Sevigny, Sharon Stone, Juno Temple
Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Screenplay: Andy Bellin
Cinematography: Eric Edwards  (colour)
Music: Stephen Trask
Designer: William Arnold
Costumes: Karyn Wagner
Editors: Robert Dalva, Matthew Landon
Producers: Heidi Jo Markel, Laura Rister, Jason Weinberg, Jim Young (Millennium Films and Eclectic Pictures in association with Untitled Entertainment, Animus Films and Telling Pictures)
USA, 2013, 92 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 Panorama advance press screening, Cinestar Sony Center 3 (Berlin), February 9th 2013


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