is a tale of two stories: The first half of the film follows the improbable trajectory of Linda Boreman aka Linda Lovelace (played with surprising force by Amanda Seyfried) from living-at-home twentysomething to the actress in of the most successful porn films of all time. From her wedding to Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard at his creepiest, thanks to his sideburns and disarmingly high-pitched squeals) to her, er, oral skills on the set of
to her feting by none other than Hugh Hefner himself (yes, that's James Franco as the smut king), if it's not quite a celebration it certainly is a sunny portrait of life in the sexually liberated early '70s.
But it's the second version of the film that stays with you. Halfway through the biopic, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (who were both behind 2010's
), the story shifts back to nearly the beginning. What we thought was fact--Lovelace's happy marriage with Traynor, her excitement about becoming a star, her eagerness to parlay the surprising hit into a bona fide career--is framed as fiction as we see what happens when scenes end, doors close, and no one's looking.
What emerges is a heartbreaking portrait of a woman taken advantage of at a every turn, whether it's by her husband, film execs, or a horny Hefner. And while her story of physical, mental, and sexual abuse might not be unique, the backdrop to it--becoming an overnight success doing something she was coerced into doing in the first place--is certainly captivating. Is
sexy? No, this is no bow-chicka-wow-wow
-esque film, but in all of its honesty and rawness it's hard to look away.
REBECCA WILLA DAVIS
hits theaters Friday, August 9.