Much has been made about this Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis collaboration that nearly everyone on Earth predicted its nosedive into the bleeding gutter even way before its production began. The notoriety lies in the casting of tabloid-wild-child-turned-rehab-queen Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen, the former’s rotten reputation of on-set tantrums and latter’s specialty in the business of fucking rather than ‘acting’ (counting north of 4,000 adult film titles, I gather) make for a sure-fire recipe for production hell. Yet despite of its potentially unmitigated disaster status, The Canyons isn’t as astronomically atrocious as others have led you to believe. Sure, it’s bordering terrible but it’s not as godawful as the latest Adam Sandler film.
Schrader and Ellis deploy with all seriousness their onscreen thesis about the modern depravity of Los Angeles, a city that serves up endless cocktails of sex, lies, disaffection and violence featuring a clutch of bored, white, rich people whose lives primarily consist of drinking, eating and fucking. Most scenes hardly excites, given its topic – this picture promising a smorgasboard of hedonism is barely intoxicating and as exciting as a trip to your nondescript local bar where everything is familiar, and its imagery of derelict cinemas, while startling and understandably purposeful, feels misplaced within the context of the central story thread. We get the idea of throwing out a meta-essay about the ‘death’ of moviegoing, given this film’s Kickstarter history, the democratisation of modern-day filmmaking and digital distribution, but not entirely convincing given that Hollywood still earn bazillion of box-office receipts with latest crapbuster out in the nearest Odeon. Moviegoing is still well and truly thriving, despite what Schrader and Ellis purport here.
Yet it’s not all that bad. The biggest surprise is Lohan herself. When you’d expect this performance to tear a massive blackhole in her career, not only she managed to actually finish a picture without crashing a car or ending up with another late-night police-headquarter mugshot, she emerges as the most fascinating figure in Schrader’s picture. Lohan imbues her character Tara, the ennui-ridden sex kitten co-habiting with Deen’s self-imposing, smug and manipulative producer, with some raw nerve and emotional nakedness never seen before in her body of work. Her presence gives the picture an even more intriguing verve, what with Lohan’s public persona, history of meltdowns, crashes and burns, Tara and Lindsay merge into one and Schrader’s camera allows us to ceaselessly stare and examine this conflicted persona, along with an extreme close-up of a grief-stricken, tear-streaked, vanity-free Lohan when given an ultimatum by Deen’s domineering Christian. It’s palpable she throws herself to the role, and in an almost sobering act, it makes one believe that all is not lost in Lohan.
Deen is a minor revelation, too, somewhat astonishing for somebody whose cock is more famous than his acting ability. Ellis has written a few other grandiloquent, megalomaniacal figures before (best example would be Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), and Deen chews the role with relish, servicing Ellis’s bitter, sarcastic words with an equally cynical bite. That said, quality of performances aside, other supporting actors do not measure up alongside Lohan and Deen – most of them looking either amateurish or straight out of trashy soap opera shows that beset American television. I’m looking at this guy named Nolan Funk, whose blonde locks seems to possess more talent than himself. Word of advise, Funk – sign back up to acting school. It’ll probably do you good.
Characterisation is also a major issue here. As much as Deen visibly enjoys the sociopathic role, his character’s motivation is unconvincing. For somebody who flaunts his hedonistic, sexually carefree lifestyle over a casual dinner party right from the beginning only to be consumed with jealousy and obsession later on is a mark of unreliable writing. It’s not trying to humanise the character with flaws, it cheapens him down as a generic antagonist in the thriller genre. And this only emphasise the problem central to The Canyons – it’s a film preening with self-importance, but beneath the charade, there’s a conventional script peopled with thriller genre archetypes and lacklustre dialogue that it’s hard not to sniff at its conscious flamboyance. This is also Ellis’s film as much as Schrader’s, with the writer’s penchant for florid writing all clearly signposted throughout the film and he’s responsible with any flaws. Technically, it doesn’t look different than half of the films churned out today in industry, and there are unnecessary camera tracking shots of characters going in an out of building assumed to only fill a running time rather than serve a narrative. And for trash factor, such scenes bearing some thematic licentiousness (threesomes, foursomes, nudity galore) are all executed with the dexterity of a direct-to-video movie you’ve rented from your nearest Blockbuster from the 90’s and have forgotten about many moons ago.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader | CAST: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk | SCREENPLAY: Bret Easton Ellis | PRODUCER: Post Empire Films | RUNNING-TIME: 99 mins | GENRE: Drama/Thriller | COUNTRY: USA