Those of you preparing to eat a pile of mashed potatoes the size of a baby tomorrow (and that should be all of you) might want to pace yourselves just a bit. You see, this Sunday, Lifetime is serving up a honkin' hunk of cheese that you'll want to save some room for. Because this, folks, is Liz & Dick, the much-publicized Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton biopic (haha, that's a mighty big word for this movie — then again, so is "movie") starring Lindsay Lohan. (And the guy who hosts Australian The Amazing Race, whatever.) The film, in fact, goes beyond cheese and into an almost dadaistic realm of cheap and tacky absurdity that, frankly, defies explanation. Though, come, let me at least try.
Liz & Dick begins with Taylor and Burton meeting on the set of Cleopatra and ends with Burton's death in 1984. So we're talking a 20-plus-year span here, one that the production makes no real efforts to address beyond some uninspired costume changes and maybe a few makeup lines on Lohan's face and some gray dust in actor Grant Bowler's hair. Beyond that things stay mostly the same, as we are dragged through one Life Moment after the next. Liz and Dick initially can't stand each other, of course. She's a preening diva, he a drunken rake, and they bicker and trade barbs and all that, and I suppose we're supposed to think it's a wonderful bit of a sparkling foreplay. But it's not. It's dead and stilted, and slightly uncomfortable considering Lohan and Bowler's nearly twenty-year age difference. (In real life, Burton was only seven years Taylor's senior.) The two have exactly zero chemistry, and Bowler seems to have been cast simply because he bears a passing resemblance to the great British thespian and could be secured on the cheap.
We all know why Lohan was cast, which adds an extra depressing dimension to the film. She's here as a stunt, there's no way any actual director thought "Yes, Lindsay Lohan, that's the ticket, she simply must play this part." In interviews Lohan has been asked about the "iconic" Liz Taylor, and that lady certainly existed. But this Liz & Dick thing, this character played by Lindsay Lohan, is the furthest thing from iconic. I suppose we are supposed to see some connection between Taylor's paparazzi problem and Lohan's, but the comparison rings false. Mostly Lohan is just a campy pastiche of Hollywood golden age actresses, although the camp factor seems less than intentional. Lohan can cry well enough, but she looks and sounds like a modern 26-year-old girl crying. When she does try to go for Taylor's affected, mid-century stentorian purr of a voice it reads high school play, not two-time Oscar winner from a storied age. Lindsay Lohan was a good actress once, and might one day be one again, but this movie will not do anything to put her on the road to recovery. The performance isn't even exciting in an erratic or weird way; it's strained and tired. Not, like, been done before tired, but actually tired. Poor Ms. Lohan seems ready to nod off on whatever couch she's sitting on in every scene. You can tell that she really does hope to prove something here, to show all her doubters that she can accomodate the burden of a big role, but she just doesn't seem quite there yet. She's distracted and unfocused, seemingly uncomfortable with all the heavy lifting. I hope she'll get her sea legs back someday, but her work here doesn't bode well.
Neither Lohan nor the criminally boring Bowler are aided by anything else in the production. The story movies along choppily, skimming over Liz's divorce from Eddie Fisher and the public's condemnation, taking a glance at Taylor and Burton's hugely successful tandem film career, and lightly touching on Burton's crippling alcohol problem and money woes. There is plenty of booze and money talk in the film, but it all feels tossed-off and casual. There's grand Hollywood history to be covered here, but it's largely ignored or oversimplified. Nearly every scene in the film is instead devoted to one muted fight after another to be immediately followed by the making up. "Liz and Dick are fiery, passionate beings!" is the intended effect. "God, Liz and Dick are annoying and dumb" is the unfortunate outcome. The screenplay, by Temple Grandin writer Christopher Monger, seems self-aware that the story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton is not actually what's drawing people to this particular movie, so it just regurgitates scene after scene of the curious oddity that is Lindsay Lohan thrashing around in silk robes. An effort to add some emotional heft by intercutting the regular narrative with scenes of Liz and Dick sitting in directors chairs in a black room detailing the arc of their romance — they are timeless and omnipotent in these segments — is a throwaway stab at style or complexity that teaches us nothing, stuffed with generalities and platitudes as the interludes are.
I'm not sure what Lifetime thought it could get away with here, budget-wise, but good grief is this an ugly, cheapo affair. It has the same vague non-locality of all Lifetime movies, though surprisingly this one was shot in Los Angeles instead of the go-to Anyplace, USA that Vancouver pretends to be so frequently. Trouble is, this movie is set mostly in jet-setting locales around Europe. We are supposed to revel in the breezy, dash-off luxury of movie star living, and yet there we are with the two leads standing in front of wildly unconvincing backdrops; you're likely to find better production values at a Wild West photo booth at an amusement park. The hotel rooms are ugly, an Oscars ceremony looks a fright, and nobody dresses well. Liz and Dick's jetset life seems almost as glamorous as a third national road tour of Seussical. Guys, if you can't even remotely approximate the look and feel of fabulous people in fabulous places, then don't make movies about fabulous people in fabulous places. Liz & Dick is rather stunningly unpleasant to look at, with a scene set at the Spanish Steps a particular aesthetic disaster. Here's an original movie that looks sweded. No easy feat.
I suppose it's a little cruel to harsh on this movie, considering how badly Lohan needs and wants it to work and that, sure, plenty of kind and decent people were likely employed by the film. But it's such a lazy bit of shoddy craftsmanship, such a ham-handed attempt to sell Lohan-exploiting junk as some kind of story about a classic, breathtaking romance, that I think it earns our scorn. That said, you should certainly watch it. The movie is bursting at the seams with insane moments, my favorite of which involves Lohan half-assedly throwing a glass at the wall and then picking up the phone and saying, "Yes, get me Aristotle Onassis right away." That's some pretty good sh-t right there. You may be partial to other nonsense parts — the Spanish Steps scene, the sight of Lindsay in an '80s Liz Taylor wig dropping to the floor in a faint like a kid doing a pratfall — but trust me that this egregiously slapdash movie is worth your time, if only, actually definitely only, for the incredulous guffaws it frequently elicits. I know it's cruel to laugh at others' misfortune, but come on. When you've got Lindsay Lohan and this other guy acting out scenes from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, how can you not be a mean girl?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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