john elliott looks at one of the most talked about new tv films…
Lifetime’s Liz & Dick is perhaps the most anticipated tv movie event of the year, and we all know why–but let’s be honest. It’s enjoyable in the same way a car accident or forest fire is; you know that damage is being done, and lives are being ruined, and yet, you just can’t look away.
Cutting to the chase, this film, premiering Sunday night and starring Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler, is deliberately, ostentatiously bad. It’s almost bad in a way that’s sort of trashy fun, but it doesn’t really hit those marks of cheese in a way that’s satisfying. Maybe if you make a drinking game out of it…yes. It’s out there.
A ton of marketing went into this film, and you’ve probably seen advertising everywhere, even in front of legitimate (I said it) films in theaters. It’s supposed to be the nearly-true story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and it tells the tale with the standard Lifetime aplomb. Meaning, of course, that this is paper-thin in terms of depth and has all the credibility of a note scribbled on the bathroom wall.
When Taylor and Burton met on the set of Cleopatra, they hated each other, and then 180’d and set the gossip world ablaze with their scandalous affair. They were both married to other people, and Taylor was on her fourth husband. Then they got married and divorced twice,and made some cruddy films together, and one great film in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The film opens on the last day of Burton’s life in 1984, and then bounces back to the pair’s first meeting during Cleopatra. Things rapidly ramp up, and pretty soon, we see them in swinging bouts of indulgence, fighting, screwing, drinking, and spending money. They act like spoiled brats, and it’d be fun to watch, if there was any sense of mirth or winking self-awareness to it. But there’s not. Then there’s these bizarre cutaways to Burton and Taylor kibbitzing about their relationship, in head-to-toe black, smoking like chimneys. Is this a documentary? Should we care? I don’t understand. Oh wait, it’s a beyond-the-grave narrative device. I guess that’s interesting. No, no it’s not.
So, let’s cut to the chase. Bowler is not completely terrible in his role, or maybe he is. Maybe I’m just cutting him some slack because Lindsay Lohan is so completely, rapturously bad in this.
If you slap some Vaseline on the lens and squint, and maybe lie to yourself a little, Lohan looks a little like Taylor. There are moments where the physical resemblance is actually pretty good. And then, everyone stops trying. There’s no attempt to recreate Taylor’s buxom physique or unique sense of motion here; Lohan’s lack of hips really calls this to attention. It’s super noticeable when the film tries to recreate classic scenes from the pair’s history. During Virginia Woolf, it’s pretty much as if Richard Burton is having a knock-down, drag-out fight with a prepubescent Skeletor.
The European scenery is faked with the same lack of care. It’s like no one really had any interest in telling this story with anything resembling authenticity or respect.
Based on the title alone, I secretly hoped this film was about Ms. Taylor’s well-publicized love of the penis. Sadly, it was not to be. With Lohan in the lead, that alternative might have been entertaining. What we got instead is a boring, curiously sexless, career-ending turn from Ms. Lohan, with a cast and crew around her putting in the bare-minimum effort to create something resembling a movie.
As to that drinking game? I have just one rule: drink every time you see Lindsay Lohan looking bored. I’ll meet you at the nearest hospital, ten minutes after it starts. We’ll chat as we get our stomachs pumped.
Liz & Dick, a Lifetime Original Movie, premieres Sunday, November 25, at 9pm ET/PT on Lifetime.