Before it actually hit theaters, Paul Schrader's sordid Hollywood drama The Canyons had already become infamous, thanks in part to a memorable New York Times story in which the filmmaker detailed his often-troubled relationship with his female lead, Lindsay Lohan. Add that prerelease buzz to the fact that porn star James Deen was the leading man, and that the project -- written by the publicity-savvy Bret Easton Ellis -- was one of the first high-profile cinematic projects to have started life with crowd-sourced funding, and The Canyons was sure to become a curiosity. But it isn’t engaging, interesting, well-written, or well-acted.
Lohan stars as Tara, the current girlfriend of unctuous trust-fund douchebag Christian (Deen), who spends his days manipulating everyone around him and his nights orchestrating sexual encounters with strangers for himself and Tara. Christian has invested money in a low-budget slasher film, and his assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) has gotten her boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk) cast as the leading man. However, Ryan and Tara used to be a couple, a fact the other two are unaware of, and Christian's coldness makes Ryan protective of his ex, who left him because he was struggling financially -- something she never has to experience again while she's with the shark-eyed, morally devoid Christian.
Bret Easton Ellis became the enfant terrible of American fiction with Less Than Zero and American Psycho, but his fascination with beautiful young Californians who live a life of overindulgence hasn't evolved at all since his breakthroughs. His work wants to blow the lid off of the vaccuousness he sees in modern America, but he’s incapable of shocking us because all he's done for more than two decades is provoke; at this point, it's tiresome to get worked up over his sardonic outrage.
Schrader, a brilliant screenwriter in his own right, should have seen through this cliched script that's loaded with leaden dialogue. Maybe he thought the poorly written characters and their subtext-free conversations were making some sort of statement about how empty Hollywood has become -- a notion underscored by Schrader's decision to present The Canyons’ opening credits over a montage of abandoned, run-down movie theaters.
The idea that he wants to play up the soullessness of the characters is also amplified by the casting. Whatever genuine acting talent Lohan might have had at one time has long since been abandoned; she's become an actress whose ego gets in the way of the character she's supposed to be playing. It’s hard to believe someone who was once so utterly natural that she fit perfectly into an Altman film has devolved into a ham-fisted, one-dimensional performer who pushes too quickly for every emotion. For his part, Deen has picked up too many bad habits acting in adult films that Schrader didn't bother to get rid of -- he caps off nearly every line of dialogue with a facial expression that indicates his character's intentions.
The Canyons is the work of a desperate director collaborating with a writer whose ideas have been stale for nearly two decades and actors who have either lost interest in their own talent or haven't yet discovered it. Schrader may think he's made a scathing indictment of the emptiness of movies right now, but in truth he's fashioned an example of why the steady, guiding hand of the Hollywood system sometimes saves artists from their own worst instincts.
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- Released: 2013
- Review: Before it actually hit theaters, Paul Schrader's sordid Hollywood drama The Canyons had already become infamous, thanks in part to a memorable New York Times story in which the filmmaker detailed his often-troubled relationship with his female lead, Lindsa… (more)