There are some movies so awesomely bad that their unintentional badness turns into audience happiness. See Sharknado, or most Lifetime Originals. And then there are movies so awesomely sad, that their sadness makes the audience sad by association. See The Canyons.
Hyped as Lindsay Lohan’s comeback and director Paul Schrader’s career savior, with a script penned by Bret Easton Ellis, The Canyons’ fuzzy plotline stars James Deen and La Lohan as an L.A. couple tanning and looking pretty by day and satisfying some kinky sexual appetites by night. Deen plays Christian, a controlling, trust-fund-fueled man-boy forced to keep the family film business running. Lohan plays Tara, a struggling actress-turned-kept woman with a perpetual anxiety problem. Several filmed sexcapades later (including a rave-lit foursome in Christian’s bed), Christian and Tara play a cat-and-mouse game of sexual domination when Christian finds out Tara’s been sleeping with the lead actor (Ryan, played by Glee‘s Nolan Gerard Funk) in his horror flick.
In the spirit of Lohan’s ever-changing tresses, I’ve compiled a docket of The Canyons‘ highlights and lowlights. Because we’re still suffering from a serotonin low post-viewing, let’s start with the film’s uppers:
1. James Deen’s close-set eyes and knowing smirk. A surprising takeaway is the dramatic gem that is porn star James Deen as Christian. EW critic Owen Gleiberman said in his review, ”For once a figure from the porn world reveals true acting talent. Deen makes Christian a rivetingly ice-cold game player.” Except for some unfortunate dialogue, Deen plays a convincing sexual sociopath with a penchant for tequila day-drinking and buxom babes. He’s at his best during Christian’s bursts of anger — I was terrified for Tara when he throws her to the ground and, oh, when he murders his yoga teacher/hookup buddy.
2. Poorly paced, non sequitur-laced dialogue made for unintentional theater-wide laughs. Some personal favorites:
• When Christian’s yoga teacher, Cynthia (Tenille Houston), tries to warn Tara that Christian is nothing but trouble and a past date-rapist, Cynthia says that he slipped her a “rufilin.” Tara fights back and says that Cynthia is liar, correcting her date-rape term (and revealing her to be a secret pharmaceutical naming-expert), “Second of all, it’s rohypnol.” Pwned!
• When Ryan reveals to his girlfriend Gina (Amanda Brooks) that he’s been cheating on her with Tara, he does so in a breathless, spiraling speech about how he’s been sneaking around Christian to get to her, and how Christian is a psychopath who cleaned out his bank account, and how his own acting career is in shambles, and how he loves Tara — all before poor, just-woken-up Gina has decided what she’s gonna eat for breakfast. After deluging her with the bad news upon bad news, Ryan follows up with, “I love you, baby.” Of course, nothing says true love like “I’ve been f—ing Lindsay Lohan behind your back.”
• At a therapy session, Christian opines to his therapist in a pseudo-Shakespearian tone, “We’re all actors.” So. Deep.
3. Laughable “serious” scenes. As Ryan is a struggling actor, he’s got a few side jobs, one being an underwear model. What’s meant to read as a sympathetic take on his financial state, one image is now seared onto my brain: Ryan (Nolan Funk) at a modeling gig looking like a thirty-something Justin Bieber wearing nothing but a blue disco thong made the audience burst out laughing instead of quietly sympathizing.
And now for the downers:
1. Shaky camera work. Aside from being largely unwatchable, I physically could not look at the screen because some scenes looked like a Blair Witch Project cameraman hijacked the production.
2. A revival for Microsoft Word 2007 WordArt. Did anyone catch those chubby typefaces they used for the titles and credits?
3. Too. Many. Chests. James Deen and Nolan Funk were constantly ripping their shirts off. Lindsay Lohan’s boobs made so many cameos they ought to get their own IMDb listing. At least the wardrobe department got a day off considering the cast didn’t wear much clothing the entire time. But as in pornography, where the plot exists in virtue of place-holding the nudity, The Canyons’ soap-opera-close-up “storyline” seems to exist in virtue of place-holding the nude scenes of Lohan and Deen.
4. Lindsay Lohan looking like she used the same makeup artist from Lifetime’s Liz & Dick.
5. Meant to be meta, The Canyons is too on-the-nose with its critique of current culture. Nearly all the characters are perma-attached to their cell phones, which just reminds us to check our own phones instead of making us re-evaluate our addiction to tech. The plot sounds like another film about a cast of mostly white people doing unspeakably cruel things to each other (Closer) and Christian sounds a whole lot like Fifty Shades of Grey’s Christian with his wealth and psycho-sexual tendencies.
6. While Lindsay does have glimpses of her former brilliance, there was something about the duality of her role as Tara. Throughout the film, and watching Lohan’s performance as an anxiety-addled, constantly paranoid, scared former actress, I couldn’t help but confuse Lohan’s personal/public life with Tara’s fictional life. Instead of feeling empathy for the trapped Tara, I felt sad for Lohan’s dregs of a career. During lunch, discussing why she stopped assisting with Christian’s movie production, Tara asks Gina, “Do you like movies? I mean really like movies.” Later, Lohan adds, “Maybe it’s not my thing anymore.” Sadly, I think Lohan means it, by her participation in this film.
The Canyons may be the only movie in recent history where the scene-stealer wasn’t visible onscreen: the ghost of Lohan’s career. It isn’t even a scantily clad bookend to the March-released Spring Breakers, which also featured partially clothed full-time stars, riffed on current pop culture, and featured a James-ian leading man (of the Franco variety).
If you were hoping for a hot cinematic mess, an awesomely bad “Is it art? Is this director messing with us?” accidental-meaning-of-life kind of movie, this isn’t it. What we’re left with is tantamount to the gutted movie theaters metaphorically spliced into The Canyons — a drizzling sadness at what was (a shining Lohan in Parent Trap, Mean Girls, A Prairie Home Companion) and what could have been (a good film).