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The Canyons Review: That Lindsay Lohan Movie You Already Hate

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | August 5, 2013 | Comments ()


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The Canyons isn’t just bad, it’s just as bad as you think it is going to be. Which is terribly, relentlessly awful. The film was financed on Kickstarter and legendarily plagued by production problems, fights between director Paul Schrader and leading lady Lindsay Lohan were common, with Lohan disappearing or refusing to act at the drop of a hat. When the film was finally done, Steven Soderbergh saw the final cut and offered to re-cut the film for Schrader, who balked at the suggestion of another director cutting his film. Besides, he said, he’d already used every frame of usable footage. One shudders to think about what was left out as the remaining product seems stitched together from what could only be rehearsals. Surely no one would call this a movie, and actually sell it to people for ten bucks a pop.

The plot exists as a kind of weapon against the audience, rich young things in Los Angeles make movies and screw each other, both sexually and in every other way. Petty jealousies and traumatic trust exercises, power plays and dull boredom rule the days that stretch out, one after another in a long line of depressing, wasteful existence. Rich, movie producer Christian (James Deen) and Tara (Lindsay Lohan) are in a relationship based on money, power and sexual exchange, which Christian asking Tara to engage in three ways and four ways for his pleasure. And oh yes, we experience the full frontal nudity of both these… stars, and the full frontal nudity of other … actors. Anyway, when Christian learns of an affair between Tara and Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), the lead of the movie he’s funding, his obsession with catching them out grows into a murderous rage. The same effect can be produced by spending a few hours driving on L.A. freeways, but… you know, tired joke. The most realistic element of the film is the sheer amount of time everyone spends on their cell phones, and talking about texting and Facebook.

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Not gonna bury the lede here, Lindsay Lohan’s face looks different in nearly every scene, heavy eyebrows, cartoonish makeup, puffy lips and cheeks, and her acting vacillates wildly between flat, listlessly thrown out lines and disturbingly realistic terror. It kind of works for most of the film, but it doesn’t come off as naturalistic acting so much as someone who knows she’s supposed to be ACTING doing her best to pretend to care about saying her lines audibly. That this was supposed to be Lohan’s comeback vehicle is depressing, and it’s clear that the talented actress of yesteryear is long gone, lost to a decade of drugs, plastic surgery and removal from reality. You feel so bad about everything that it’s even impossible to enjoy any of the nudity, so icky is the entire endeavor.

The temptation is to look for hidden self awareness or meaning in every line uttered by Lohan, desperately seeking truth in the well-worn lines of her face, trying to catch her eye in order to figure out exactly how much she knows about what’s going on around her. Just as we love her endlessly screen-capped temper tantrum in Liz & Dick as she screams “I’m bored! I’m so bored!” there’s a few choice lines in The Canyons as well. At one point she argues with Christian, saying, “I guess I’d like to keep some parts of my life private.” To which he scoffs and says, “Nobody has a private life any more, Tara.”

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Famous porn star turned legit actor James Deen might be the best actor in this farce, other than sad, sallow Gus Van Sant who appears briefly as a therapist, dour and unmemorable. Deen is smarmy, all sardonic smiles and manufactured charm, the sort of guy who used to give people finger guns and now does the douchey bro-chin nod when saying hello. His best moments come in moments of absolute control, and unsurprisingly, in the sexual situations that litter the film. Deen excels at seduction, that much is clear, and since much of the film centers on his sexual exploits, including some very raunchy sex scenes, he’s often in his element. It’s only when that pesky “talking” and “acting” comes up that he seems to struggle, but he’s not alone! Everyone else is so embarrassingly bad that to mention anyone in particular feels cruel and unnecessary.

Let us speak well of it, at least in part: There is a certain kind of attempted style in some of the framework, a few shots that work because of the lighting, the music and the insidery Los Angeles setting. The city is not allowed to be a character in this one (hell, the characters aren’t allowed to be characters either) but for natives, there’s a few recognizable locations that place characters within a world of wannabe. Lunch at Sunset Plaza, really? Ferreal, that guy works at the Palihotel? A confrontation takes place in the Amoeba parking lot? One can only assume that whatever locations were free shot to the top of the list. This is a Los Angeles marginalized, the worst, most boring, flat version of a city that has endless angles and heights. Which works perfectly for the film, so unimaginative and relentlessly bored of everything.

For a minute here and there you think that there might even be elements of other great Los Angeles films, such as L.A. Confidential or Mulholland Drive, but banking on the hard work done by others does not elevate your own shitty movie. This is typical Bret Easton Ellis, done even worse than you can fathom, and I think it’s safe to say the world has lost patience with this kind of drama. There’s hints of what made American Psycho great, but the lack of subtlety or depth fails whatever minor achievement the material may have been. Being so over the world isn’t as cool as it was when you were 25, and Easton Ellis’ particular brand of bored rich kids screwing feels beyond outdated.

For an audience to enjoy a movie, they need to be able to set aside the actors as people and believe them as characters. Realistically, the film never had a chance with a leading lady so entrenched in her own overpowering alternative narrative. Lindsay’s best moment comes perhaps early on in a confrontation with another character, who limply attempts to convince her that love is enough to subsist on. She blanches and tears up, choking out a truth that transcends the screen: “I need someone to take care of me, and I needed someone to take care of me.” Impossible to enjoy on its own, The Canyons is amusing only as a document of failure in every capacity.

Amanda Mae Meyncke is a member of the OFCS and writes about ice cream, and is other places on the Internet.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • HobokenGuy

    I almost NEVER post on here but read most of the reviews. Like most of you (I'm sure) I enjoy the bad ones more than the good ones sometimes. This is one of those times.

    Perfectly written and hilarious for a movie I will most definitely never see.

  • St

    Another big problem for Lindsay is that she is so boring to watch. She was boring on SNL, Liz and Dick and I had to FastForward on Canyons too. You can’t even hate watch it and laugh. Because it’s that boring.

    Her face is gone forever. She looked 40. She will never look young again.

  • ,

    I read that article about the making of this mess and I have to say, Lohan sounded like the sanest person involved, which should have told us all something.

  • PDamian

    I live in a small town with one multiplex that very seldom shows independent or art films, and I'm the only person in my circle of friends who has VOD. Three people have already called me to suggest that I have a viewing party for The Canyons, just so we can all hate-watch. Sorry, but no. I don't think I'll be watching this by myself, let alone with friends. I can hate-watch something that's so bad that it's almost camp, like Sharknado, but watching a washed-up actress with a serious substance abuse problem try desperately to resurrect her career by "acting" with a porn star is just too depressing. Schrader and Easton Ellis are also becoming desperate for a second act, and the anxiety just leaps off the screen (from what I've seen in the trailer and in online clips). And while James Deen seems like a thoughtful and considerate fellow in his interviews, I have no desire to see him in action either, given what I've read about his non-porn acting. Ugh. This whole mess is just sad.

  • Slash

    Yeah, this. Watching people spiral down is not entertaining to me. It's like a slow-motion car wreck.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Everyone has iTunes though, and it's available on there for ten bucks.

  • PDamian

    Excellent! I'm off the hook -- possibly, probably. I'm old, and many of my friends are old, and more than a few of them don't know from iPads, iTunes, VOD, etc. (Some of them have subscriptions to print newspapers -- the horror!) Have some pity for the old farts amongst us.

  • ,

    Speak for yourself.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    What a useful, thoughtful comment! Thank you, comma!

  • IngridToday

    Does this mean I don't have to hear anymore "Lohan is an extremely talented actress, once she gets her life together she'll have the success she deserves!" train.

    This whole movie sounds like it would have made a great documentary. Especially when Lohan refuses to the nude scenes, so the director gets naked to convince her. I would pay to watch that kind of crazy.

  • PDamian

    Honestly, I feel bad for Lohan. Yes, she's made terrible decisions. Yes, she's made one excuse after another for her bad behavior without expressing much regret. But let's face it: she never had much guidance to begin with, and the few adult influences in her life have been either deranged or drunk.

    Talent is a finite resource, and she squandered hers, no doubt about that. She may yet eke out some sort of career for herself as an actress if she gets her life together. But the Oscars and critical acclaim to which she aspired are now permanently out of reach, and I can't think of that as anything other than a tragedy.

  • Bodhi

    I understand why people feel sorry for her, but I do not. I agree that she was dealt a pretty shitty hand & that it must be a special kind of hard to grow up in the spotlight with parents a shitty as hers (I mean that in all seriousness), but there are loads of people out there who have harder childhoods & have turned out to be honest, hard working people. I know that is a common argument, but I think its a valid one.

    She has had AMPLE opportunities to get her shit together & she has just pissed them away. Early on in her spiral, there were some genuine offers of help extended to her & she either ignored them or burned those who offered. I don't know that she'll ever have a shadow of the career she once could have had, I think she has burned too many bridges. Everything she is in feels like stunt or pity casting.

    I certainly don't wish her ill like a lot of people seem to, but I don't feel sorry for her in the slightest. Maybe she will get her shit straight this time & go about her life in calm, meaningful way, but I'm not holding my breath

  • Maguita NYC

    There was no way this movie was going to be anything but a failure!

    One good thing about Deen though, it surprised me what a cool decent guy he is in interviews. I haven't seen any of his movies yet, but Deen has shut down any homophobic-leaning questions regarding kissing another man for his role in the movie with class!

    His answer when asked about kissing dudes:

    "Not really. I've kissed other dudes in my life, so it's not really a big deal. I have this conversation a lot because there is still a lot of homophobia in the world and in adult films, when you're sharing a scene with another dude and a lady, sometimes certain things come up: gay this, gay that. The way I define gay or homosexuals is a sexual attraction to a member of the same sex. I fully believe that people can engage in any sort of activity. Like I hate basketball, but I've played basketball before and it doesn't make me a professional basketball player. That [gay-sex] scene was a very important part of the movie, because it kind of represents the power switch. I think Bret was really worried I wouldn't want to do it. It's part of the script. It's not like it's real life. I'm not shooting a porno where I have to get physically erect and have sex with a dude. I think it was kind of a weight off of everyone's shoulders that I wasn't going to create an issue with it."

  • I feel worse for Schrader. Despite his legendary crazy, the man who gave us Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mishima and American Gigilo deserves better.

  • Maguita NYC

    But his ego tripped him and therefore failed him the moment he refused to accept Soderbergh's help.

  • dammitdamian

    Damn. After reading the director's article in the New York Times, I had perverse hopes that this might actually be halfway worthwhile.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01...

  • Meg

    I remembering reading that when it first came out and it kind of made me want to see the movie too. The whole piece was just voyeuristic trainwreck perfection.

    Having finally seen it though, meh, the Ellis quote from the article that it felt more like three hours than it's one hour 30 minute run time is 100% accurate. And the general consensus that Deen is the best thing to come out of the movie (small praise though it may be) is right on.

  • Slash

    The article did not make me want to see the movie, but it did give me respect for the porn actor. Apparently, he has more sense and professionalism than the other major people involved put together. I'm not sure why I'm surprised. Though I'm not a big fan of porn, I never assumed those people don't work hard. And most don't seem to be nearly as coddled as mainstream movie stars.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    Yeah. This is disappointing, but not altogether unexpected.

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