It’s never a good sign when a network declines to make screeners available to the press before interviews with the executive producer. This was the case with Lifetime’s “Liz & Dick,” the much hyped Lindsay Lohan comeback vehicle which airs Sunday, November 25.
Two days after Larry Thompson’s press conference, the network finally allowed reporters to see whether the movie lived up to Thompson’s claims that, “Lindsay’s performance is wonderful. I think that when you watch the movie people will see that Grant Bowler as Richard Burton just steals your heart. Lindsay Lohan breaks it,” and “What [Bowler] brought into the room with Lindsay and they read for us for the first time, the chemistry was so obvious and his testosterone matching her estrogen, this chemistry exploded right there in the room in front of everybody. It was just like fourth of July firecrackers going off. ”
Let’s just say Thompson is the P.T. Barnum of Made-for-TV movie producers. “Liz & Dick” is certainly memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Lohan’s performance as Taylor makes Jennifer Love Hewitt’s take on Audrey Hepburn look like Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. Her line readings are so flat they wouldn’t past muster in a high school play. She gives Taylor the vocal inflections of a Valley girl. A scene where she screams, “I’m bored!” at the top of her lungs seems destined to become an internet meme. Worst of all, she is incapable of crying on-camera, a problem for a film that must have a dozen scenes of her breaking down. In fact, the entire film seems structured around her limitations.
Watch Lohan on Tuesday’s Episode of “The Tonight Show”:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Tonight-Show-With-Jay-Leno/8687230020288550112/2307265998/Lindsay-Lohan%2C-Part-1/embed 580 476]
The bulk of the dialogue is given to Bowler, who, all things considered, does a decent job as the hard drinking Shakespearean actor Burton. Most of the scenes are about two minutes long, seemingly because Lohan can’t handler longer, more in depth scene work. One of the great love stories of the twentieth century is reduced to a superficial series of vignettes of arguing, drinking and sex.
Burton and Taylor bicker at their first meeting on the set of “Cleopatra.” Then when they film a sex scene , their stage kiss makes them instantly fall madly in love with each other, and seconds later they are having a torrid affair. At least, that’s the way the film presents it. There is no attempt to explain why two married actors cheating on their spouses was considered so scandalous at the time, or how the extensive media coverage of their relationship differed from the carefully controlled public personas that films studios used to create for the stars. If you don’t know who Eddie Fisher was, and why Liz’s relationship with him was controversial in its own right, you won’t gain any insight from this movie. Nor will you learn anything about why — other than a mutual fondness for alcohol — Liz and Dick were so drawn to each other despite the volatility on their relationship.
On the other hand, “Liz & Dick” is an unintentional camp classic. Lohan wears two different fur hats and a turban. There are references to Liz’s fat period, but she only looks like she is about five pounds heavier because the production seemingly could not afford a fat suit. The make-up artists make little effort to cover up her freckles or to give her make-up that will realistically age Lohan the 30 years that the movie spans — though the 26 year-old Lohan certainly looks plausibly thirtysomething. Then there is the hilarity of Lohan wearing a spiky wig meant to emulate Taylor’s famous 1980s hairdo. She looks like she is in a Halloween costume. Strangest of all are the segments when Taylor and Burton, apparently being filmed for an “Actors Studio” type documentary address the camera directly, at some indeterminate point after their final break-up, though the film’s narrative indicates that they were not in contact with each other at that time.
How can a producer promote a film that even he must know is less than great? By putting on a Pollyanna spin that was slowly punctured by relentless questions about the difficulties of working with Lohan. He started off confident: “As a producer I can’t think in terms of awards, but I can think in terms of making a great movie, and that’s what we’ve done.” Then he essentially copped to stunt-casting Lohan. “The obvious risk that was inherent in having her was worth the potential reward. Because you know if you’re going to make a movie about Elizabeth Taylor, you damn well want some great magic and we thought that Lindsay Lohan could bring that drama.” After that, he was barraged with questions about what it was like to work with Lohan. He admitted, “I have certainly worked with actresses during productions whose behavior was less problematic then Lindsay… Let’s say that producing a movie with Lindsay Lohan is not for the faint of heart. I turned fifty shades of white, actually, during the production” However, he quickly added, “But that happens on most productions. On this particular production we did have a couple of incidents which forced us to readjust production. But overall, my gosh, relative to the performance we got and the movie we were able to make, because of her, the risk was worth the reward. The pain was worth the pleasure.”
Thompson admitted that, long before the cameras starting rolling, working with Lohan was difficult. “When we finally decided to hire her, we had serious challenges to deal with, due to her probation and her history. Therefore we had to make a deal where there were pages and pages of what-if clauses… There never was a what if she can’t act clause. It was about, What if there is a car accident? What if there is a violation of her probation? Therefore she would be incarcerated. Those what ifs were plenty. But, through insurance, and I will add she might be the most insured actress who ever walked on a sound stage, we tried to insure itself against things that could, and in fact did, happen.”
Thompson was referring to Lohan’s car accident during filming of which he said, “Lindsay was unable to work that day and it became an insurance day. That means that you have to make that day up, so whatever that cost is, of shooting what you should have shot that day, it becomes your damages and your loss that you make an insurance claim for.”
When Thompson was asked whether he would work with Lohan again, he paused for a second then said only, “Sure.”
“Liz & Dick” airs Sunday, Nov. 25 at 9/8c on Lifetime.