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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Biopics and other disasters

May 1968.

Don't worry, I like you all too much to spend this entire post discussing Liz & Dick (especially as this a post I'm writing to derive my blog from a nearly month long oblivion), but I can't tell a lie. I tuned in to watch the "film", and it not only lived up to my expectations of how horrendous it would be,  it surpassed them. 

I think the main reason for the producers casting Lindsay (Insert Explicative Here) Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor - which, when you really think about it, is so ridiculous it makes you want to hit your head against the wall, but then so do many things about Liz & Dick - was for the attention it would garner. It's a pretty easy hook and sinker premise: Lohan, whose name has become sympathetic with the expression "hot mess", to make her "comeback" role as one of the greatest of Hollywood legends in a Lifetime TV movie none the less. It's not that there was ever a doubt in anyone's mind that Lindsay would not screw herself over, but the sheer possibility of a so-bad-it's-good conceivability drew everyone to their television sets while Lifetime plastered side by side photos of Lindsay (in full Taylor drag, violet contacts 'n' all) and Elizabeth on their website to prove their point.

Whatever acting potential Lindsay showed in Mean Girls (and okay, fine, The Parent Trap) totally flies out the window with this, but is that a surprise to anybody? I haven't seen anything she's made since Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, but it appears that her acting rage hasn't widened at all since then (several times whilst watching her play Elizabeth I felt a case of deja vou coming on). One of my Tumblr friends put it best when she said "Lindsay's acting when she was ten < Lindsay's acting now." But like I said, this shouldn't be of news to even the folks at the Lifetime channel, because whatever dormant acting qualities Lindsay may have had at one point (and I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt here), was murdered by her recent years of self abuse. 

Lindsay was a cute kid and a pretty teenager, but her downfall in the past years are presently painful in her appearance - her face, the random marks on her body - in addition to the Botox I'm certain we all know she's had. To be quite frank, Lindsay pretty much bears no resemblance at all to Elizabeth; even when done up in Elizabeth's makeup she looks like she's playing dress up. Lindsay is now at a point where she is just so out of the league to play E-l-i-z-a-b-e-t-h T-a-y-l-o-r, who so many people (me included) consider to be one of the most beautiful women of all time.

All of the above, and never mind that the ink is barely dry on Elizabeth's death certificate - she only passed away about a year and a half ago, and it was only two months following her March 2011 death that Lifetime announced their plans for this movie. (I could be wrong, but hasn't Lindsay been in jail at least two or three times since then?!) One may argue that Lindsay, who has had more than her fair share of paparazzi and invasion of privacy, would be in the perfect boat to play Elizabeth, who lived all her life in the public eye. After all, shouldn't Lindsay of all people be empathic with the camera's flash and glare? And Lohan's own personal battles, some would insist, are not much different than some that Taylor faced - Elizabeth was, after all, checked into the Betty Ford rehab for a period of time for her alcoholism. 

While those may be true, Lindsay is missing a few major factors that make her pretty much the worst candidate to play Elizabeth. Elizabeth had her struggles, but she lived life with a passion that helped her overcome her obstacles to an extent which, unfortunately, it seems Lindsay will never be able to achieve. She was a diva no doubt, but no where near the bitch the Lifetime movie makes her out to be at times. Elizabeth Taylor was a "drama queen", but also an incredibly warm and passionate woman, a loving mother remembered fondly by her children and a spectacular activist for HIV/AIDS. Plus, Lindsay lacks ever bit of the finess and elegance that Elizabeth eluded all her life; which gave her that special glint in her violet eyes that made her seem likable even at the most terrible times, or down to earth even when she sported the Taylor-Burton diamond on her finger.

And finally -

But if Lindsay couldn't be relied on to make this "biopic" enough of a hot mess, you would have to give the second place Razzie to the teleplay's "script." It was non stop cringeworthy lines, dialogue that I know my ten year old cousin could have written better, laced together with jumpy editing and music that made you feel like you were watching an episode of The Babysitters Club from the 90's. I found it increasingly creepy that in all the lovemaking scenes, "Richard" recites Shakespeare to "Elizabeth" ("More, more!" Lindsay insists, trying to be seductive, "I want more."). At one point, she suggests they go out to the pool. "No," he says. "I've got a whole ocean in you." Among other fantastic quips, we see a sign intended for Elizabeth: "Slut on a Hot Tin Roof", a newspaper headline that reads "Cleo-fat-tra", and Richard referring to Elizabeth as "Miss Pudgy Digits." When she breaks into tears, he takes her in his arms and says, "It's okay, I'd love you even if you were as fat as a hippo." (Because nothing rings more Shakespearean than that.) Sobbing, she looks up at him. "I need a ring. A big ring!"(So to put it bluntly, this movie was basically sold - and pretty well - on the pretext of how scorching of a hot mess it could truly be; starting with that goddamn obnoxious title.) 

Perhaps the strangest part is the sequences that seem to take place in a out of body, post-mortem world: Elizabeth & Richard with cigarettes, sitting on chairs which appear to have been placed on an empty, black stage, reflecting back on their marriages much as reality TV stars do in between clips on their shows. The fact that it's not clear whether this is supposed to be Elizabeth and Richard in 1964 or 2012 or in Heaven is legitimately strange enough to really make one question their decision of watching the movie.

Lohan is only twenty-six, but the movie starts when Elizabeth is twenty-nine, and progresses onwards. In reality, Elizabeth, like many women do as they age, began to gain weight. The film makes constant references to this, which I guess would be okay if Lohan actually appeared chubby - but she didn't put on any weight, or nonetheless padding, at all. There are actually a few unbearable clips of Lohan trying to reenact Elizabeth's Academy Award winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (the role in which Taylor actually gained thirty pounds for), where she is just so obviously skinny in contrast to what Elizabeth genuinely looked like at the time. I think they would have been much better off had they just avoided the subject of Elizabeth's weight entirely, but then again, the writers would have lost out on getting to use romantic terms like "Miss Pudgy Fingers."

Maybe the ultimate highlight of the movie is the end, where Elizabeth's mother tells Lindsay (who is now supposed to be portraying Elizabeth at the age of 53 - wrinkle free and skunk inspired 80s wig intact) that Richard is dead. Lindsay falls straight to the floor, in a "faint" that draws hilarity that should not have existed in such a scene. (Hell, it shouldn't have existed throughout the whole movie, but this scene especially.)

I had never heard of the actor who plays Richard Burton; his name is Grant Bowler and apparently he's done work on the television show True Blood. He actually wasn't that bad, and in comparison to Lindsay, could win an Emmy. (...But my favorite cast member was probably the appearance of Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny; I kept crossing my fingers for Fran Fine to come out and steal the show...) He makes a half decent attempt at Burton's Welsh dialect, whereas Lindsay Lohan doesn't even take a stab at Elizabeth's famous, famous voice. Basically, the best way to put it is when you watch Liz & Dick, you get Lindsay Lohan playing... Lindsay Lohan, in Dina Lohan's 60s castoffs.

The best part of the movie was probably the opening credits, which leads me to believe that the most convincing Lindsay Lohan could ever be as Elizabeth Taylor would be in a Vanity Fair photo shoot, with the advantages of Photoshopping and her mouth shut!

I was over the moon to discover that this movie's executive producer is Larry Thompson, the same genius who created the masterpiece (intended sarcasm) that is Lucy & Desi: Before the LaughterWhich means he is the same man that is responsible for this: 

Similar to Thompson's latest conquest, Lucy & Desi was made just two years after Lucy passed, and takes a tabloid fodder view of their relationship, filled to the brim with cheap lines ("What's so exclusive about sleeping with YOU?!") and excruciating scenes. Lucie Arnaz was so disturbed by it that she nearly threatened to sue. So it seems apparent that Thompson makes his living off waiting for Hollywood legends to die, and going straight into production of the the only "movies" he seems to know how to make.

... In general, I haven't had very good experiences with biopics, but there are definitely examples of how they can be done right. Just as recently, I saw The Aviator (2004). It's a nearly three hour long tribute to the life of Howard Hughes, the brilliant but disturbed aviator & director, directed by Martion Scorcese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn (Hughes's onetime girlfriend), and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner (another female companion of Hughes's.) Big budget, starring some of today's best actors, and directed by Scorcese (need I say more), I found The Aviator to be excellent.

I didn't have all that much interest in the life of Hughes, but what triggered my interest to watch was the Cate Blanchett portrayal of Kate (and also, Kate Beckinsale's Ava). Blanchett won an Oscar for the role, and it's easy to see why. She makes up for any lack of looking Kate with perfection of Kate's clipped New England tone and better yet, full understanding of Kate's legendary personality. The Aviator is actually my first Cate Blanchett movie, and she totally won me over with her performance as Kate. Playing Katharine Hepburn would probably be just about the most agonizing and painful roles to ever get correctly, and Cate came just as about as close to it as you ever could. Beckinsale was also good as Ava, but Cate stole the show - and also, needless to say, DiCaprio's performance as Hughes was also spectacular... it was just Cate that really stuck out for me.

That's how do you do a biopic. 

It's not that I'm not a fan of biopics. I'd be the first one to go out and buy a ticket for the biopic of Lucy & Desi, Elizabeth & Richard, or any other Old Hollywood star for that matter, so long it was done with the proper respect that these stars really deserve. (And hey, it wouldn't be so bad if you could get Scorcese to direct it and throw in some big name stars - that haven't been in jail or rehab in the past five years - too.) Or, perhaps, Hollywood could just let them all rest in peace.

So, that's what I've been up to lately. This is an admittedly lousy post because none of you actually needed a review of Liz & Dick, but I hadn't updated here in forever! (And I was feel kinda sentimental/missing Elizabeth, even though this movie tarnished Lindsay's reputation - even more - than it barely grazed Elizabeth's.) ...Anyways, anyone else want to give their two cents on Liz & Dick, biopics, or anything in general?

P.S.: I've missed you all!!


Alyssa LM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcela Costa :} said...

Like I always do, I scrolled down to look at the photos before I read the actual post, and the first thing I saw was a pic of Cate Blanchett with "that's how you do a biopic". SO TRUE.
Great post, Ri!

silverscreenings said...

I didn't watch this movie, but I did keep an eye on Twitter and people were having a lot of fun skewering it. I did, however, see the scene where she faints after hearing that Richard Burton is dead, and I did laugh - couldn't help it! Oh dear.

Elizabeth Taylor deserved so much better than this.

Laura said...

This was a great, hilarious write-up, with excellent points! The problem with biopics in general is that if the actors aren't careful, it's really, really easy just to rely on mimicry instead of actual acting.

Unfortunately (well, maybe not unfortunately) I haven't seen Liz & Dick yet, but among my least favorite biopics are Man of a Thousand Faces and My Week With Marilyn. Aviator is fantastic, a good example of how a director doesn't have to be overwhelmed by the real-life characters and fawn all over them, and can instead tell a rich, complex story. Same with Lincoln (mostly).

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Thank you! I was also so confused about the "interview" parts. It was so weird. I was really hoping this would be one of those so bad it's good movies but alas it was just two hours of awful.

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