In the weeks before "Liz & Dick" was released, I'll admit I was looking forward to it. It was going to be Lindsay Lohan's comeback! And if not that, the casting was very meta. Lohan's career could hardly be called a mirror image of Taylor's, unless bounced off a cracked, tarnished and very small rear view mirror. Yes, they were both child stars, chased by paparazzi and troubled by bad press, but let's face it -- Liz Taylor was the sex symbol of her generation and a two-time Oscar winner to boot. Lindsay Lohan... well, she was good in "Mean Girls."
Still, when the reviews started pouring I gave up any faint glimmer of hope that this might be La Lohan’s comeback. Critics pounced on "Liz & Dick" with a zest usually reserved for Guy Fieri's New York restaurant. The project was "wildly graceless," a “peculiar, drab, damp little TV movie. It was “so terrible, you’ll need to ice your face when it’s over to ease the pain of wincing for two hours.” Lohan was “fascinating and terrible,” she was “frozen faced,” a “14-year-old boy in drag.”
Of course after all that, I really wanted to see it. It was going to be “Showgirls!” A camp classic! Something to create drinking games around!
So, tonight, like plenty of other people, I watched it.
And my reaction? It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t a sign of the coming apocalypse, either. I’m not saying that because all of the really funny insults have already been written. But, as usually happens, if everyone says a movie is the Best Movie of the Year, you’re pretty sure to be disappointed. And if it’s the worst? You might be, if not pleasantly surprised, a little relieved you don’t have an overwhelming need to bash your head against the nearest wall until you sustain enough damage to forget what you’ve seen.
One thought I couldn’t shake watching the movie was… did anyone remember this was on Lifetime? I mean, Lifetime? Not HBO, not even AMC or TNT. Lifetime. We knew it was going to be a little (or a lot) tawdry, and there would be few pauses for subtlety, emotion or good acting. This biopic was going to hurtle through plot points like a cheap crime novel, spitting them out like rotten teeth.
And while I can think of countless reasons for the filmmakers to cast Lohan, I’m not quite sure why she wanted (and allegedly fought doggedly for) the role. She could only hope to fail. Taylor was a legend. Heck, they’re still selling White Diamonds with the deceased star in the ads. Even in death, she casts a mighty shadow. And, as anyone can tell you, her on-again, off-again relationship with Richard Burton was a love affair for the ages.
But why? I'm not being glib. While "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" should cement Burton and Taylor in our consciousness forever, their relationship wasn't exactly happy ever after. As even this biopic suggests, these two messed-up narcissists gave into impulse to be with one another, not caring how it affected their families, their jobs ("Cleopatra" went $42 million over budget -- and this was in 1963) or anyone but themselves. They spent money stupidly, which forced them to take crappy acting gigs which only served to tarnish their careers. Then, there was the fighting, the drinking (a lot of drinking) and the fact that these two seemed to need constant validation. Under different circumstances, they would have been the couple friends you knew in college, got stuck driving home after parties, and who'd ruin a night out by getting into a fight, breaking up, then having make-up sex in the back of your car. Lots of drama, certainly, but is it really a love affair that must be held in such high esteem? If anything, it's a perfect fit for Lifetime -- tawdry, sad, a little campy. Just the thing for stunt casting.
Yes, Lohan made a lot of mistakes in portraying Taylor. Why she vamped through Taylor's "pudgy" years without even bothering to put on some padding (which is sorely missing in the badly re-created scenes of "Woolf?") boggles the mind. Just to make Lohan -- a freckle-faced, fair-haired girl -- pass for Taylor, the filmmakers had to have her slathered with foundation (not to mention a series of bad wigs), turning the whole endeavor into cheap costume. And then there's Lohan herself. The plastic surgery, the trout pout, the fact that very few women in the world could ever convincingly pass for Taylor and she just isn't one of them -- Lohan knowingly walked into a car wreck, and I can't help but feel sorry for her.
She stretched, and she failed. Is she screamingly bad? No. She muddles through, and given the material, given the venue, given her moderate talent, I'm not sure anyone could have expected much more. Yes, her on-screen glass smashing tantrums and her ridiculous suicide attempt play as if she's a pouting teenager, but I'm not sure if the reality was any different -- this was hardly the great romance people seem to want it to be. Lohan's voice lacks Taylor's lilt, she is often wooden, but there are moments that show real emotion and maturity. They're few and far between, granted, but did I need to ice my face to recover from two hours of wincing? No.
In the end, Lohan is yet again the tragic figure, the butt of the joke, the washed-up child star who just won't go away. Given how the critics tore her apart, I'm not sure if the (I'm guessing high) ratings for this TV movie will help her turn her career around. But even though she's someone who's gotten a lot of second (and third, and possibly more) chances, I would hope this wasn't her final strike. Taylor had more natural gifts, granted, but she got away with plenty of stinkers (including, yes, "Cleopatra") and a thump on the knuckles from the Pope for "erotic vagrancy" with Burton. I'd like to think, no matter what she thought of the subpar biopic, she'd still want us all to shaddup and give the kid a bleepin' break.
Did you see "Liz & Dick"?