BY CLAIRE WARD-BEVERIDGE
Back in January, the New York Times published a 7,500 word profile on Paul Schrader’s new project with author Bret Easton Ellis. Ellis wrote the screenplay, Schrader would direct and porn star James Deen would co-star along with Lindsay Lohan. The piece focussed largely on Lohan’s involvement and what a seemingly large risk Schrader was taking in terms of hiring her for the part. Lohan’s career and life post-Mean Girls has been mercurial at best, as we all know. It seems the world has been waiting with baited breath for something tragic to happen to her, especially for the past month or two, seeing as she turned 27 in early July.
When I read the NYT piece, I remember focusing intensely on sections or even just sentences that mentioned Lohan and sort of skimming over everything else. I’ve always been rooting for her ever since I saw The Parent Trap, but especially so since it seemed that she was troubled, or that she sought out trouble. In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Schrader spoke of her wanting to “live in a cone of chaos” and what isn’t interesting about that? It’s a cultural trope that child stars usually become fucked up adults and this of course makes total sense. But as devastating as things are for them, and as insensitive and glib (and, admittedly, trite) as this may sound, pain and struggle are sometimes the right constituents for complex, extraordinary art. Let me make it known now that I’m not amping this review up to argue that the film The Canyons is a groundbreaking work of cinema, but there are aspects of it that seem truer, or at least more honest, in terms of cinematic fundamentals than a lot of what’s playing in theatres today.
The film’s plot is very simple: trust-funder Deen is a filmmaker of varying degrees (read: both “actual” and homemade adult film) and lives with girlfriend/actress Lohan. Lohan gets a young man cast in one of Deen’s films who turns out to be an old flame, unbeknownst to her current lover. What follows is mostly a series of scenes and interactions which serve as vehicles to the violent and/or sexy scenes. Yes, The Canyons is labelled as an erotic thriller, but the eroticism and “thrill” aspects are really the least interesting things about it. The one thing that I really couldn’t keep my eyes off of was Lohan’s face. It’s a face that is weathered, that’s been up all night worrying, self-medicating and partying. It’s face that’s definitely older looking than it should be, but one that reveals a certain depth and shrewdness in its perception of the world around it, despite the apparent cosmetic alterations. Watching Lindsay raspily crying in a corner, makeup smeared, hair looking like that of a long-abandoned Barbie doll, you feelsa jolt in your core that suggests such an image isn’t far off from what a bad night for her could look like.
Yes, the film is not good. The acting we get from the ensemble (minus Lohan) is hilarious at best and totally wooden. The soundtrack (by Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene) is desperately trying to achieve a Drive-esque bleakness and intensity but falls short. And everything looks and feels as cheap as the shoe-string budget. But if you, like myself, are captivated by “women under the influence’” like Lohan, then this movie is (partially) for you. Surreptitiously brought whiskey helps.
Claire Ward-Beveridge is a freelance writer & photographer who lives in North Parkdale, Toronto and her rattled brain. She loves Werner Herzog and depressing English dramas. Follow her @clairewarb.