The Canyons was all I was expected, and more. Full frontal nudity, Lohan's bruised up limbs, red lipstick and cigarettes, unsettling sex scenes, melodramatic misogyny. This is pulp film making in a generation of Kickstarter, where studio men like Bret Easton Ellis (whose Patrick Bateman of American Psycho will go down as one of cinema's most charmingly idiosyncratic sociopaths) and Paul Schrader (who penned Taxi Driver) roll up their sleeves to get raw with a project that drew not only tabloid fodder, but a New York Times profile on the production titled "Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie."
In a world where Hannah Montana twerks and Bad Girl RiRi posts pictures on Instagram smoking a blunt in an outfit with the word p***y plastered on it, no one does sexy Hollywood hot mess like La Lohan. She has always been lauded for her acting "potential" but aside from her tween turns in no more than three films, it is her celebrity persona, her self-projected image as Marilyn or Liz that has kept her relevant. I would have loved to see her in Lovelace, but The Canyons has proved to be a better choice for her because of its snuff-like qualities. Really, therein lies the genius of The Canyons, which will ascend into cult status as a film that deploys Lohan and "Boy Next Door" porn star (what neighborhood do you live in?) James Deen to remind us that in Tinseltown, all that glitters isn't gold.
Without giving too much away, in this erotic thriller and case study of sociopathy inherent in Angelenos with cash to burn and vanity to eclipse any sense of empathy, at the heart of The Canyons is the dynamic between a want-to-be director/porn star (Deen) and his troubled starlet girlfriend (Lohan) who indifferently agrees to star in her boyfriend's skin flicks. The plot revolves around the unraveling of their relationship, haunted by S&M undertones, and codependence gone wrong. What we see is a biopic of a romantic relationship built on mistrust. The banter between Lohan and Deen as Tara and Christian is filled with constant nagging -- "Where are you going?" "Who is that on the phone?" -- that shows a chilling portrayal of surveillance in a world, where, as Christian tells Tara, "Nobody has a private life anymore." The exchanges between Lohan and Deen are gritty and naturalistic in their icy desperation and paint a picture of a couple of two broken people trying to coexist in a world of sex, drugs, money, and ennui. Watching them together is riveting. Lohan's puffy skin, her maudlin make-up, freckled bare breasts, hair and lash extensions, tattoos, raspy voice may or may not be creations. But, as a producer of the film, she had the foresight to know that all of the above would sell Tara, and, in noir tradition, Tara is the film's centerpiece. Deen doesn't disappoint either as a trust fund brat with daddy issues and rigorous pursuit of control, by any means. Though some critics have called Deen's performance "green," I fell hook, line, and sinker for his portrayal of Christian, who discusses both four-way orgies and his hatred for "the asshole" (his father) with his shrink, but seems to live for nothing but the tight grip over his girlfriend's life.
Lohan carries the opening scene at the Chateau Marmont, home to the actress' most wildest antics, but it is the scene where, weeping, she tells her ex-boyfriend that she is with Christian because she "just needed to be taken care of" that gives the audience the Lohan performance we've all been waiting for. She is tremendous in this scene -- raw, vulnerable, as paranoid as a battered woman, yet strong in her resolve to live a luxe life, (of "shopping and "laying out") no matter what the cost.
Voyeurism is a necessary ingredient for all thrillers, but in The Canyons, with all the hoopla about its stars, the project itself begs the question: is this low-budget train wreck a filmic version of reality TV or cinematic verite at its finest? I don't really care. Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning's sexy score, the fancy interiors and beautiful bodies on screen sell it. The aforementioned ambiguity works for me, and makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Now what does that say about me? La Lohan, go ahead and have the last laugh. You've earned it.