An unusual structure gives this biopic a surprising kick as it explores both sides of the porn industry: the glamour and the sleaze. Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers Epstein and Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk) keep things so balanced that it sometimes feels a bit clinical, never letting us feel the intense emotions that gurgle throughout the story. But it's a strikingly well-made film with a terrific all-star cast.
It also cleverly looks like it was actually made in the early 1970s, the period in which it's set. This is when 21-year-old Linda Boreman (Seyfried) left the home of her harshly religious parents (Stone and Patrick) to live with her free-spirited boyfriend Chuck (Sarsgaard). By 1972 she was the most famous porn-star on earth, as the lead actress in the crossover adult movie Deep Throat. But the glamorous lifestyle covered a much darker reality: that the abusive Chuck forced her to make the film while selling her body to anyone willing to pay. And it took her several years to break free, tell her story and stand up against the industry that used her.
Cleverly, the film carefully lays out the male-dominated culture in the industry along with the jet-set high life before rewinding and showing us the gruesome underbelly. It's a bold gimmick that undermines the emotional momentum but forces us to examine our own perceptions. And it helps that the filmmakers recreate the period without much fussiness. Yes, there's a lot of big hair and groovy music, but it's never played for laughs. Everything centres on the characters, who are sharply well-played. Seyfried brings a terrific fragility to Linda, while Sarsgaard reveals Chuck's darkness in a complex way. The unrecognisable Stone is also excellent, while Patrick has the film's most moving moment.
Around them, starry side-roles fill in the story with key side characters and iconic cameos (like Franco as Hugh Hefner). These add to the showbiz atmosphere, layering entertaining glitz into the story's grittier edges. On the other hand, the film also skips over key facts, brushing past the way Boreman continually contradicted her own accounts of these events. For example, the film hints that Deep Throat was her only porn movie, but it wasn't. And the continual movie-scene glamour kind of undermines the truth that this is actually a very sad story.