After Lindsay Lohan's got busted for allegedly slugging another woman at a New York nightclub in November, I wrote her off as a lost cause, but Stephen Rodrick's fascinating New York Times piece about Paul Schrader's making of The Canyons with Lohan left me thinking that there's still a talented actress in that scandal-ravaged psyche worth saving.
Although Lohan exhibits plenty of ridiculous (and tragic) behavior in the story that would prove my original point, and the media has predictably chosen to run with that, I was struck by a few passages in the story that indicate Lohan is more than just a self-destructive starlet whose career is hanging by a thread. Here are three of them:
"The next day, Lohan arrived relatively on time for a makeup test. She sat behind a table with a can of Sprite, looked into the camera and flashed a wholesome smile that would not have been out of place in the world’s best soda commercial. Schrader grabbed my arm and pointed at Lohan’s image.
'See? That’s why we put up with all the crap. You can shoot bad movies with actresses who are always on time. But look! The rest is just noise.'”
Then there's Rodrick's description of Lohan's preparation for a scene in which she was required to be scared and emotionally naked:
"All that remained was to get a close-up of Deen touching Lohan’s face with a blood-streaked finger. Only half of Lohan’s face would be in the shot. Most actresses would pop in some Visine to well their eyes with tears and be done with it. Instead, Lohan went back to her room, and everyone waited.
I was standing by her door, and soon I could hear her crying. It began quietly, almost a whimper, but rose to a guttural howl. It was the sobbing of a child lost in the woods.
She came out of her room, and I watched the shot on a monitor. Now, without the garish makeup, Lohan looked sadly beautiful, and it was easy to see why men like Schrader were willing to put their lives in her hands."
The last excerpt appears at the very end of the story when, after all of the drama of shooting The Canyons, Rodrick asks the writer of Taxi Driver and the director of Affliction and the underrated Auto Focus, if he regretted casting Lohan:
"He shook his head.
“No, she’s great in the film.”
Schrader then told me a secret. Until the screening disaster, Schrader had been in talks with Lohan to star in a remake of John Cassavetes’s “Gloria,” about a woman on the run from the mob. The director lighted up, childlike; hope triumphing over memories of being stripped naked.
“It doesn’t involve a co-star. She would be perfect for it.”
One of the things that makes Rodrick's piece so good is that with passages like that, the reader has to make a judgement call: Is Schrader deluded because he really needs this film to move the needle, or is that the veteran filmmaker in him — the one who's worked with Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and his brilliant, late brother Leonard Schrader — talking? I say it's a mixture of both, but more of the latter.
And though Rodrick certainly leaves the impression that The Canyons is a problematic film (that was rejected by the Sundance Film Festival), he also writes this passage about Lohan's performance that suggests that, with a lot of tough love and self-discipline, her career is salvageable.
"But about 15 minutes in, something clicked....Lohan was equal parts vulnerable and dissolute."
I know what you're thinking: That line is a distillation of Lohan's recent life, but go back and re-read the description of Lohan's crying scene. In the right hands, Lohan is capable of tapping into all of chaos and pain she's experienced and putting it into her performance.
It's too bad that Exorcist: The Beginning was such a debacle for Schrader. LiLo could probably turn in quite a performance as a woman possessed. As the Times piece demonstrates, the promising actress that Lohan once was is still alive in her. It's just that the demons keep dragging her down.
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