The weird thing about Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons is that she looks more like Elizabeth Taylor than she did in the Lifetime movie Liz & Dick. The sad thing about Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons is that at 26 she is channeling the middle-aged, blowsy version of Taylor. Director Paul Schrader argues in Film Comment that the camera loves Lohan the way it once did Marilyn Monroe. Based on his own work with her in The Canyons that is mostly untrue, but even if it was, so what? The camera loves John Stamos. That doesn’t make him a movie star. And not even Monroe at her most luminous could have saved The Canyons. If Lohan hoped to reignite any flickering embers left among the ashes of her career from her tottering walk on stiletto heels down Hollywood’s seamier side, she is bound to be disappointed.
Lohan is Tara, kept by one man, trust fund psychopath Christian (porn star James Deen), but in love with another, struggling actor Ryan (Nolan Funk). Christian is controlling, a boyfriend who constantly monitors his girlfriend’s activity and who exercises the prerogatives of ownership by inviting strangers over for hookups. (He whines to his psychiatrist, played by Gus Van Sant, that he feels “objectified” when Tara tries to take control during one of their encounters, the single funniest line in the movie.) Even to a casual observer, Christian is a dangerous man, but that doesn’t stop Tara from still carrying a torch for the ex she dumped, because he was poor. She couldn’t help out, because, you know, getting a job would be just too tragic.
No one is very good in the movie, but to be fair to Lohan and the other actors, they are trapped in Bret Easton Ellis’ ludicrous, cliche-ridden screenplay. Nearly 30 years after the publication of his first novel Less Than Zero, Ellis remains obsessed with Hollywood’s rich and fatuous. Less Than Zero made a crap movie, too, but at least it had Robert Downey Jr. going for it. There is no one of his caliber here in a cast that struggles to breathe life into barely there characters. Schrader himself seems hardly invested in the material, except for a few golden moments, such as one scene between Tara and Christian by their pool where Lohan really does look every inch the movie star.
The most striking element of The Canyons is actually its opening title sequence, a catalog of dead movie theaters, images that recur from time to time throughout the movie and then again at the end credits. There is something impressive, even majestic about those ruins, which cannot be said for the movie’s tired melodrama. The images also seem like an admission on Schrader’s part that the film itself is a kind of ruin and not the lifeline he, Lohan and Ellis thought it would be. –Pam Grady