The Canyons

23 Aug

The Canyons is a bad movie. A seriously bad movie. That needs to be said up front. It was interesting to me for a few reasons, but none of those reasons had anything to do with the actual product on the screen. If I saw this and I had never heard of any of the people involved and I didn’t know anything about its production history, I would be left kind of baffled at how a movie this bad could get made. I doubt there are any people who actually walked in cold and saw it, but I’d love to hear an opinion from one of them. So I have some thoughts, but a movie this incoherent gets a review that’s just as incoherent. This is kind of scattered.

At this point I’ll post a link to the lengthy and excellent New York Times Magazine piece about the production, with the spectacular title Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.

Here’s the thing though. Lindsay Lohan is not one of this movie’s problems. The only way you could make that case is to say that she’s such a better actor than anyone else in the movie that it highlights how terrible they all are and makes their performances even more distracting. She’s obviously talented. I don’t keep up with her personal life, but one positive to take away from The Canyons is that from a talent perspective, there’s no reason she shouldn’t be a movie star. From a talent perspective. Her face looks pretty goofy now and there’s the aforementioned personal life, which are two strikes against her.

Another positive: it’s a pretty good-looking movie. I think one of the big ideas was to capture a mix between seedy desperate LA and phony glamorous LA. I think that goal was mostly accomplished. Locations, lighting, that kind of thing. Good job guys.

One of the biggest problems with The Canyons is one I didn’t anticipate: it’s boring. Really fucking boring. There’s no real plot. There’s not much character development. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe Paul Schrader did a bad job translating the script to film or maybe Bret Easton Ellis’s script is bad. But Christ, if you’re making a movie, you should have some events happen in it. Here’s my plot summary: This guy who’s a movie producer and his girlfriend have sex with random people from the internet, and this other guy, an actor, is cast in one of the producer’s movies, but the girlfriend is having an affair with the actor, and the producer gets jealous and for some reason eventually murders this other girl he’s sleeping with. I couldn’t tell you what the reason is, though. And there’s an orgy scene. It all seemed pointless, and not in a “Wow what an incisive commentary on how meaningless modern life is in our society/how directionless young people are etc.” way but in a “These characters are all boring and why is there a movie about them and furthermore this movie has nothing to say which is extra frustrating because that was obviously the goal since there’s no plot to engage the audience” kind of way.

As mentioned, the director is Paul Schrader. He’s an interesting character. He’s most famous for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. That’s notable, I guess, but that’s not what’s interesting about him to me. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan in an apparently very strict Calvinist household. As someone who’s only a generation removed from very strict Calvinist households in Western Michigan, I was very surprised to learn this fact. He never saw a movie as a kid. Not one. This sounds crazy. Really crazy. There are (very old and dead) people in my family who also never saw a movie as a kid. I’ve heard stories of childhoods in which Sunday afternoons were passed sitting quietly on the couch between church services. When I was a kid, the McDonald’s in my parents’ hometown was the only one in America that wasn’t open on Sunday. My parents’ high school didn’t have a prom, they had a “senior banquet” because dancing was frowned upon. Mr. Schrader attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids. I know many graduates of that school, including my sister. You can spend some time on Google researching their retrograde positions on all kinds of issues, but here’s something relevant that I think is telling. The most famous graduates of Calvin are: 1: Businessman and notoriously bad sports team owner Wayne Huizenga, 2 & 3: The guys who founded Amway, and 4: Paul Schrader. My sister, who graduated just last year, had never heard of Paul Schrader until I asked her about this movie last week. Every university in America spends a lot of time bragging about its famous alumni, Calvin College included. But they don’t mention the guy who directed American Gigolo. Wonder why. So that’s where he’s coming from. I don’t know how relevant that is to a discussion of The Canyons, but I don’t care.

I watched The Canyons at home on my laptop. This cost me $7. I wanted to go see it in the theater, but it wasn’t playing anywhere in the East Bay and going to see a movie in SF adds up to like a $20 proposition. No thanks. I think this was a result of a disastrous first-week run in New York and LA. I believe it was supposed to be at a few more theaters locally, but it did so poorly in that first week and was so poorly-reviewed that a bunch of them dropped it. That’s my guess anyway. So it was only at one theater in the whole Bay Area. According to BoxOfficeMojo it’s grossed $43,000 and change. Yikes. I thought it would be impossible to lose money on a $250,000 movie starring Lindsay Lohan, but I guess that’s why I’m not a film executive. I guess that total doesn’t include VOD rentals. I’d be curious to see that number.

I get the novelty appeal of casting a porn star to be in your movie, but I think that’s a lot more appealing on paper than on film. James Deen is not a good actor. I will note that he was markedly better than some of his scene partners. Clearly not up to the standard of Ms. Lohan though. I saw that Steven Soderbergh movie with Sasha Grey a few years ago. I don’t remember it that well, but I do recall that it kind of had the same problem. She was a better actor than Mr. Deen, but she seemed tentative and generally out of her element. I wonder what kind of rehearsals/acting classes/preparation/whatever was involved for both of them. That Mr. Deen sure does have a big dick though.

On that topic, there are more naked men in this movie than I can recall seeing in a movie. That’s not to say that the nudity’s extreme or even especially explicit. Given the reportage about Ms. Lohan and the orgy scene, I thought this was going to lean more heavily to the erotic end of the erotic thriller genre, but I didn’t think that was the case. Ms. Lohan in particular isn’t any more exposed than any other name actress in a typical R-rated movie with “tasteful” nudity.

Recommendation: If you were, like me, very interested in all the behind-the-scenes nonsense of The Canyons, it’s probably still not worth watching. Sorry.

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