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.
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.”
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.