As Linda Marchiano, Amanda Seyfried adds emotional gravitas where there is very little. She has several sparkling scenes, the most prominent being when she talks to a photographer about whether or not he has made her look beautiful.
Unfortunately, Seyfried is hamstrung by material that pulls back from potential thematic weight. When police officers find Linda running from Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman do not develop tension or suspense. When her colleagues realize Chuck is abusing her, the directors again opt not to investigate their response. And so forth.
Each time Lovelace is on the verge of true emotional depth, it cuts away, never daring to immerse.
It does the same in developing characters, at least outside of Linda. For example, when the protagonist appeals to Anthony Romano (Chris Noth) for help, we expect him to turn her away, because we only know him as greedy. When he aids her, we are taken aback and not moved.
More problematically, Chuck is not well written either. Near the end of the film, Linda says he could be charming, which is why she was attracted to him in the first place. Only we never see charming; the first time he meets her parents, he is almost pleasant for about two minutes screen time, until the scene’s finale when his behavior is totally disgusting.
Here Peter Sarsgaard shares some blame. From his first scene to his last, Sarsgaard shows only one trait: his character is evil. Surely, that’s how Chuck is written and directed, meaning Sasgaard is not most at fault, but a skilled performer can add layers where there aren’t any. And he doesn’t.
Perhaps worst of all, Lovelace’s structure involves too many temporal leaps, both forward and backward. The movie would have benefited from linear storytelling.
Yet, for all of that, it isn’t a total failure either, mostly because of Amanda Seyfried’s daring performance.
And also because her character is reasonably well written. Linda is the only thing here with any depth.
She just doesn’t have nearly enough to save the film.