Lindsay Lohan. James Deen. Bret Easton Ellis. Paul Schrader. It isn’t so much a case of one of these things not being like the other, as much as none of them sharing a single common strand of DNA, such that a film involving all of them will invariably go one of two ways – an alluring curio, or an unmitigated train-wreck.
This $250,000 experimental film, rolling out on VOD platforms this week, is one which scribe Ellis himself has decried as a “languorous” interpretation of his screenplay, yet the director’s inexplicable effort nevertheless allows the perceived misogyny of the author’s work to run painfully amok throughout.
Self-reflexive to a point, The Canyons examines the lack of actual creativity that drives Hollywood, as the future of a movie project hinges on the whim of sexually possessive movie producer Christian (Deen). He casts young up-and-comer Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) in a role, though balks once he realises that Ryan has been previously involved with his actress girlfriend, Tara (Lohan).
Lohan, playing an actress on the skids much like herself, and caught between the “love” of two men, gives the film an occasional air of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, though to compare it in that same esteem is something of an insult to Mr. Lynch.
Any attempt to forge a meaningful narrative is mostly drowned by the vapid nihilism of Ellis’ vision – and believe me, this film belongs to Ellis, not Schrader. Much like in the movie adaptation of the author’s novel The Informers, we find ourselves asking – why should we care? The characters disappear in a sea of sex, drugs, lies and self-involvement, which can’t even be brought to life by occasional full frontal male nudity and the frequent sight of Ms. Lohan disrobing.
The “men are a**holes” shtick becomes tiresome after half an hour, while the largely helpless female characters are bullied, humiliated and otherwise stripped of their agency as quickly as they are their clothes, an assault that as it exhausts viewers likely undercuts any wider point Ellis might be trying to make (if he even is at all).
Viewers may attempt to make sense of the narrative by means of it polarising sex and love, given the innumerable sexual power plays that take place throughout the movie, though by the time act three rolls around, Ellis and Schrader have seemingly lost interest in all this, deferring to a generic crime thriller plot that involves far too much techno-babble and not enough character development or even world-building.
In that latter stead, lenser John DeFazio does the best he can to elicit the soulless glamour of the Hollywood Hills which house such thorough misanthropy, though he’s clearly hamstrung by the film’s subterranean budget, often lending the movie a grubby, dull aesthetic that resembles a 90s TV show if not many a film school project.
The scenes of wanton fraternisation are, of course, adorned with the usual 80s synth licks accompanying just about any Ellis-scripted project, though they feel more anachronistic here than ever before, given the film’s presence of smart phone technology (which Christian uses to record his sordid trysts).
Thesping is meanwhile most certainly the highlight of the movie; Lohan delivers probably the most rock-solid performance of her adult career (not that this says very much), though she, like everyone else, would have benefited from a script less mired in inertia.
The stunt casting of adult star Deen cannot be ignored, though to his credit, he proves a passable enough presence, or in the very least, he doesn’t serve as the distraction that many will have expected. In fact, so sterile are his sex scenes that one has to wonder why a porn star was even hired in the first place. A fleeting cameo by Gus Van Sant, on the other hand, only serves to pull us out of the movie, which to many I suspect will be a positive.
A deeply ugly film from top to bottom, but more importantly, how can a collaboration between Lohan, Deen, Ellis and Schrader be so dull?
The Canyons hits VOD in the US on Friday.
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