Earlier this year, I read a story in the New York Times about how Paul Schrader, veteran screenwriter and director, had hired tabloid favorite Lindsay Lohan to be in his new movie, The Canyons. At one point in the article, it is said that “Schrader thinks she’s perfect for the role.” And how could she not be? An actress who’s been chewed up and spit out by Hollywood in a film about people being chewed up and spit out by Hollywood? Little could go wrong there, I suppose – especially if you’re expecting to see a train wreck, which is what The Canyons is.
The Canyons, to me, seems to be a satire of what Hollywood is becoming – a place where films go to die, as evidenced by occurrences in the movie itself, accompanied by many shots of decaying movie theaters throughout. No longer is the film or the making of it important; it’s the behind-the-scenes hijinks and the selling of the tabloid drama that seems to be getting more time than having actual thought put into our movies. Author Bret Easton Ellis has made himself famous with novels like “American Psycho” and “Less Than Zero” which show the darker side of our psyches and society, and his anemic screenplay for The Canyons combines the crazed obsession of “American Psycho” with the hedonism of “Less Than Zero” into one quick shot for our veins, so eagerly hungry for carnage and chaos.
But who am I kidding? It’s not like Schrader and Ellis have set out to make Citizen Kane or anything; they’ve made a movie that reflects the dying art form of film. Shot digitally and cheaply, this quarter-million-dollar film milks every ounce it can from locations and actors alike, wringing everything dry and leaving very little aftertaste. There are no memorable one-liners, no bright spots to point to as a reason for watching this; the script is dry and arid, with nothing but bad exposition after bad exposition. The metaphor brought on by the repeated shots of the shuttered movie theaters can only be fully appreciated after watching this movie; small-scale and amateurishly written, acted, and directed, The Canyons is the polar opposite of all the grandeur and spectacle of the films those theaters once played.
The Canyons will be in one eye and out the other in its 95 minutes; the only thing that may stick with you afterward is how Christian (James Deen) shuffles people around like chess pieces in the sick stageplay that is his life. Deen plays Christian as almost truly evil, with not one redeeming characteristic inherent in him. He repeatedly says to his girlfriend Tara (Lohan) that he’s always honest with her, and that there’s nothing he doesn’t say to his therapist that he hasn’t said to her. But his whole life, almost from the first moment we see him, is a gigantic lie; he’s borderline psychotic and power-mad, leading to far-reaching consequences for anyone involved with him.
Of course, that’s not to say that Lohan’s character doesn’t play a huge part in the proceedings. It is through Tara that an actor named Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) has entered Christian’s sphere of influence, as he’s due to play the lead in a film Christian is producing. Unbeknownst to Christian, Tara and Ryan were an item years before; now, she’s used her relationship with Christian to get Ryan a job. Christian, ever the control freak, starts having both Ryan and Tara followed, checking her phone, sending people to ask her probing questions (after which they report back to him)… he’s the ultimate creep, trying to retain all the power in every situation while leaving none for those around him. Deen gives the film’s best performance, making Christian magnetic, cold, and devious. As much as everyone else is going to make a big deal out of Lohan’s presence in this movie, it is Deen who’s the star, not her.
Lohan, for all her worth, tries her best as the femme fatale, but she winds up looking too strung out and neurotic, often repeating lines with trumped-up dramatic frenzy in an effort to convey her emotions. Funk has little dynamic presence in this movie, other than to be a foil to Christian’s machinations and to be the throwaway piece in a bizarre love triangle. And in the director’s chair, Schrader tries to glean as much naturalism as he can from the actors, but it doesn’t mean much in a movie set in a town where fakery is the #1 source of income for its denizens. The Canyons is a trifle of a movie, best caught on late-night cable; the sordid behavior exhibited by every character (except for Amanda Brooks’ Gina, the one good character in all of this) will make you want to take a shower afterward.