This weekend could give audiences a glimpse of the funny, confident actress Lohan used to be.
Lindsay Lohan was once best known for her talents as an actor and not her proclivity for getting in trouble.
Of course, that's hard to believe now. Years of rehab stints and run-ins with the law have dimmed that memory, making the former Disney star a tabloid fixture and destroying her promising career. It's a long way down, going from playing Meryl Streep's daughter in Robert Altman's final film, A Prairie Home Companion, to receiving a jail sentence for allegedly stealing a necklace.
When Lohan steps on stage as Saturday Night Live host this weekend, she'll get the chance to reclaim some of that legacy, to shift the focus from her off-screen woes to her performing skills. The personal turmoil is sure to fuel most of the sketches, particularly because Lohan has reportedly stressed that nothing from her life is out-of-bounds. In media post-mortems, the 25-year-old is going to be closely scrutinized, with every skit mined for tidbits about her travails. That's the cost of doing business, the reality Lohan has created for herself.
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But the real Lohan, the one whom Streep admired for "completely, visibly living in front of the camera" in an interview with W magazine, will still be there. She has to be. Talent that prodigious doesn't just disappear in a haze of bad life decisions. If Lohan is given the chance to avoid just riffing on her personal life during the show, SNL will offer her the first opportunity in ages to remind audiences that she is a gifted actress with a strong camera presence.
So if there is to be a Lohan comeback, this weekend is the initial, important step. Right now, nothing else matters. Not the record-breaking Playboy cover or the Matt Lauer interview, or even the news that she's slated to play Elizabeth Taylor in what sounds like a second-rate TV movie. If Lohan has any chance of being taken seriously again, it has to be about the acting, the comedy, the dialing-down of the tabloid persona and reintroducing of the one that charmed a large fan base in films like Freaky Friday and Mean Girls.
Those movies offer the best possible illustrations of Lohan's gifts, which were particularly manifest in her ability to give the sort of controlled, relatable comic performance that reminded Roger Ebert of Jodie Foster. In Freaky Friday (2003), a remake of the 1976 comedy starring a young Foster, magical fortune cookies cause Lohan's bratty teen to switch bodies with her rigid mom (Jamie Lee Curtis). For most of the movie, Lohan plays the straight woman to Curtis's suspended adolescent, and she does so with total conviction, seeming humorlessly, understatedly ill-at-ease in her new body.
If Freaky Friday introduced audiences to a new grown-up Lohan, far removed from the child actor of The Parent Trap remake, Mean Girls (2004) made her a movie star. Tina Fey began her move away from SNL by adapting Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman's book about high school cliques, into a feature script. Lohan plays Cady Heron, a newcomer to a suburban Illinois high school who ingratiates herself into the popular Plastics clique and slowly becomes a monstrous caricature of her once shy, low-key self.
Unlike Freaky Friday, Mean Girls isn't a two-person act. Lohan carries the picture, adeptly navigating the transition from likable outsider to scheming Plastic. As her rivalry with Regina George (Rachel McAdams) escalates, the actress offers a character that is both repellent and sympathetic, and Lohan indulges in some nasty one-upmanship without losing sight of the inherent weaknesses that drive Cady.
That's acting. That's what real actors do. Sure, Lohan had the benefit of Fey's script and a bevy of comic talent surrounding her (everyone from Lizzy Caplan to Amy Poehler) but there's no mistaking that Mean Girls is her movie.
Though Lohan subsequently starred in A Prairie Home Companion and other films, she had trouble sustaining that momentum. Her final teen-oriented movies, Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) and Just My Luck (2006), didn't take. The horror flick I Know Who Killed Me (2007) was a monumental flop, and soon enough she fell down the rabbit hole of questionable life decisions and tabloid-feeding frenzies. She's barely worked since.
Saturday Night Live won't suddenly solve all the problems. The exaggerated nature of sketch comedy isn't the best fit for Lohan's subtle talents. SNL episodes are fleeting at best, gone and forgotten by Monday morning. At the same time, the hubbub over the condition of her face in her SNL promos only emphasizes just how far she has to go to be taken seriously again. That's not even to mention the fact that she's seen as uninsurable.
But if the SNL hosting stint marks the start of the real, gifted Lohan's reemergence—if it somehow signifies the end of the sideshow—we're all better off for it.