Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Cinema File #235: "The Canyons" Review

Typically I try not to feel sorry for celebrities, but try as I might, I can’t help but feel a little bad for Lindsey Lohan. Maybe it sounds trite after so many years on the tabloid rollercoaster, but I’ll always remember that precocious little girl talented beyond her years, before she was chewed up by the  Hollywood  system and spit out a broken human being like far too many child stars. Would she have needed to drink so heavily if she didn’t have to escape the constant attention of a culture so desperate to live vicariously through the fake lives of the rich and famous? Would she have gotten into as many car accidents if she weren’t affronted at all times by the flash bulbs of paparazzi trying to fill our demand for the elusive panty-less crotch shot? In the end, it is of little use to dwell on the past or our culture’s arguable culpability for the sorry state of young Hollywood, and we can’t let it distract us from the simple fact that Lindsey Lohan’s latest film The Canyons, designed as her illustrious come back vehicle, is easily one of the worst films of 2013, which is really saying something in a year that has already seen the admittedly much worse InAPPropriate Comedy, which come to think of it also featured Lindsey fucking Lohan!

The Canyons is the story of a love triangle among loveless people, following a group of the most shallow and uninteresting twenty somethings you’ll ever meet trying to find meaning in meaningless sex and self-aggrandizing emotional power plays as the movie itself tries to make itself seem important and meaningful through a series of increasingly insipid cutaways to decaying Hollywood iconography. I would normally provide some relevant detail concerning the characters or their relationships to one another, but there’s really no point, as I would defy you to give a crap about any of these people or their pretty rich white problems. The Canyons is a film not so much predicated on an engaging story or a cast worth investing intellectually or emotionally into, as much as it is an endless and endlessly boring conversation about nothing alternating between various sets of equally unbearable, unlikeable douche bags. That one of those douche bags is played by a former (?) porn star floundering in his first mainstream acting role, and another is played by the dried out husk of what Lindsey Lohan used to be is almost beside the point, like when you watch Tyler Perry’s Temptation and suddenly realize that on top of everything else, the least offensive thing in it was Kim Kardashian.

In all fairness to James Deen, I’ve never been one to automatically see a history in porn as an impediment to producing quality work in mainstream film, but I have to admit that my standards are usually a bit lower going in, and this guy doesn’t quite measure up even then. Is it wrong for me to suspect, given my lack of experience with his porn-centric acting history prior to this, that the one dull pensive expression he clings to for the entirely of this film is just his “Oh” face re-appropriated for a (mostly) non-sexual context? And yet, I can see at least a slight glimmer of potential that suggest maybe, with a lot of work, he might be able to be a legitimate actor some day, which is more than I can say for Lohan, who is frankly just depressing to watch from beginning to end. It’s not just that she’s terrible, which she is, but her vacant energy sucking performance is made even more demoralizing when you can clearly see in every look and line reading the massive void where her talent used to be. Every time I want to think that a moment in the movie is a deliberate and self-aware comment on the downward trajectory of her career, suggesting that maybe she’s cognizant of the problem and wants to get better, I have to pull back and accept that I’m obviously reading too much into this.

And even with all of that said, the biggest disappointment of The Canyons falls squarely at the feet of the director. With the exception of a campy love for Less Than Zero, I’ve never been a big enough fan of the writer Bret Easton Ellis to feel betrayed by seeing a piece of work this bad with his name on it, but I’ve always been a huge Paul Schrader fan, and the downward slide in quality here compared to his previous films is just staggering and confusing. If I didn’t know he had directed this, I would never have guessed that the same person who brought us Hardcore, American Gigolo, Affliction, and Auto Focus would even be capable of this kind of shallow trash. This reminded me not of one of my favorite directors, but of one of my most reviled, David DeCoteau, best known for his 1313 series of weirdly homoerotic horror films shot over a weekend usually in the same rented house as twenty other movies he’s shooting that week, with all the professionalism of Ed Wood but none of the passion or ambition. That I would ever have the opportunity to mention these three directors in the same paragraph is a testament to how much this movie sullies Schrader’s previously sterling reputation for dark and visceral filmmaking, and as a fan, it makes me sick, which ironically is usually what you’re looking for in a Schrader film, but not like this.

The Canyons isn’t the insufferable endurance test that Only God Forgives is, nor is it as morally reprehensible as the aforementioned Temptation, or as off putting and unapologetically sleazy as Spring Breakers. In short, it isn’t THE worst movie of 2013, which coincidentally is still an honor bestowed upon the last film Lohan did before this one, which as a perfect metaphor took place almost entirely inside of her own vagina. That it tries so hard to surmount these recent paragons of terrible cinema and even fails at that is perhaps only a final insult, and whether it’s an insult levied against the movie itself, or everyone watching it, the result is the same. This movie leaves a bad taste in your mouth from the word go, and yet while most reviews I’ve read have rightly pilloried it, this is exactly the kind of faux-gritty indie garbage that certain unscrupulous critics might be tempted to pretend to like in order to help establish a comeback narrative for its star. Do not believe them! If anything, The Canyons proves that waiting for such a come back at this point is simply not worth the effort anymore.

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