Even before watching "Liz and Dick" (Sun., Nov. 25 at 9 p.m. EST on Lifetime), it's easy to come up with a list of a few things a movie about Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton should do.
- It should establish Burton and Taylor as charismatic, complex people. Taylor was an intoxicating combination of devil-may-care bawdiness and classic glamour; she liked to belt back drinks and tell it like it was, and she was an old-school Movie Star who effortlessly commanded every room she entered. As for Burton, he was passionate, smart and rough around the edges; any portrayal of him would have to capture both his brooding outsider qualities and his sly, knowing wit. They weren't just actors on the make, they were fascinating personalities with very divergent histories, and any film about them would need to reflect their vast differences and intriguing backstories.
- It should make the electricity of their relationship apparent. The anticipation for their first kiss should be unbearable; the depiction of their affair should be deliciously hot. They were one of the 20th Century's most iconic couples, and their bond lasted until their deaths. The depth and combustibility of that bond should be the film's main selling point.
- It should be a treat for the eyes. Their affair began on the set of "Cleopatra," caught fire in paparazzi-infested Rome and then took them to Switzerland and London and beyond; all those locations should be shown in expensive, expansive period-specific detail. This was the era of "Mad Men" but on a much more lush and living-large scale; why not have some fun with that?
- It should take its time. You'd be hard-pressed to find a sentient adult that does not know the basic contours of their relationship: a turbulent affair followed by two well-chronicled marriages. If we already know the destination, the smart filmmaker would make the journey of Liz and Dick as smart, diverting and entertaining as possible.
- It should be well cast. Telling this story wouldn't be easy, given how well known its two protagonists are, but there have to be actors who could give the collision of these titanic personalities dramatic heft. You wouldn't want mere look-alikes -- you'd want terrific actors able to convey the pain and the pleasure of this calamitous, enjoyable relationship in very specific and compelling ways.
"Liz and Dick" does absolutely none of these things.
All it really does is make you sad about what's become of Lindsay Lohan, and wonder at the motivations of the filmmakers who put her in this cheap-looking, exploitative movie.
Exploitation really is the name of the game here; the whole point of casting Lohan was to draft off her status as a formerly promising actress who some time ago became a tabloid fodder thanks to her career-destroying antics. The casting of Lohan would ensure coverage of the production itself, and then more "Can she manage a comeback" chatter once the movie's air date approached. It's one way to get attention for a project, I guess.
Another way is to create something of quality, but that would take time and effort, and expenditure of labor clearly wasn't the point here.
Lohan might actually be able to manage a comeback someday, but she's woefully miscast in this. In "Mean Girls" and other pre-trainwreck vehicles, she displayed a sweet freshness and a vulnerability that made her a pleasure to watch. Whatever she has been doing the last few years, it doesn't look as though she's been working on her craft.
In "Liz and Dick," she delivers Taylor's clunky lines with a flat Valley Girl tone and flounces around the production's ticky-tacky sets with lazy brattiness, not grand hauteur. Grant Bowler (best known as the werewolf Cooter on "True Blood") does what he can, but, well, he's not Richard Burton, and the script and direction are no help to any actor (not even Creed Bratton from "The Office," who has a small role as a movie mogul).
I'd like to say that it's not apparent that "Liz and Dick's" director also helmed not one but two Mitch Albom-based movies, but it really, really is apparent. "Liz and Dick" is badly paced, cheap-looking and encrusted with a tinkly, preposterous soundtrack that is designed to make viewers go insane. It's also littered with exposition-heavy segments in which Liz and Dick reminisce about their past, perhaps from beyond the grave. In those segements, they wear matching black ensembles and essentially narrate their own lives, much to their own amusement. In doing so, they make these rich and eventful lives sound a lot less interesting than they actually were.
There is drinking game fun to be had here, but that's all "Liz and Dick" really offers. Please, don't drink every time one half of the lead duo downs some vodka or every time Lohan provides an absolutely affectless line delivery -- I don't want to be responsible for any deaths by alcohol poisoning.
But here are a few suggestions on that front:
- Take a drink every time you think a set looks cheesy
- Take a drink every time you think of better casting for the leads
- Take a drink every time you think you've spotted Bowler wondering if his check cleared
- Take a drink every time you spot Creed from "The Office," because WTF?
- Take a drink every time you think of a colorful way that the actual Liz Taylor would have described this movie (and be creative; she was a salty dame)