‘Liz & Dick’: What Went Wrong (Hint – It Wasn’t Lindsay Lohan)

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It would be easy to blame Lindsay Lohan for the complete and total failure of Liz & Dick, Lifetime’s gossip-shrouded chronicle of the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

But it wouldn’t be fair, even if her off screen antics didn’t make for at least as many headlines as Taylor and Burton’s do on: Directed by Lloyd Kramer (Five People You Meet in Heaven) from a script by Christopher Monger (Temple Grandin), Liz & Dick is so misguidedly conceived as a torrid romance that its characters never rise above one-dimensional monsters, eliminating the possibility that anyone could fall in love with them – least of all each other.

Lohan plays Taylor, whom we meet as she begins work on Cleopatra. Cast opposite Richard Burton (Grant Bowler), a stage actor with an appetite for booze, she quickly dismisses him, but their mutual animosity evolves into something resembling animalistic passion. Before long, they’ve become a couple – despite their respective marriages – and sustain a fickle relationship with alternate doses of knockdown-dragout fights, seductive make-up sessions, and lots and lots of alcohol.

Despite admonitions from Burton’s brother Ifor (David Hunt), Taylor’s mother Sara (Theresa Russell) and perhaps most importantly, their accountant Bernard (Bruce Nozick), the couple indulges every impulse, good or bad, public or private, and they soon find themselves on the brink of financial ruin. But as Liz and Dick soon begin to recognize that the candle that burns twice as brightly lasts half as long, they are forced to accept the mistakes they made, for themselves and with one another, and reconcile with the idea that their passion was not meant to be contained by a conventional relationship.

It’s unfortunate that as an actress, Lohan has all but obliterated the reputation she once had as a reliable charmer, and perhaps even gifted leading lady. (This admittedly has less to do with her actual work than her off screen peccadilloes, but if anyone can watch a story about a reckless young woman in dire need of guidance and support and not think about her train wreck of a personal life, they’re tougher than yours truly.)

What’s sadder, however, is that even that life-imitates-art-imitates life ouroboros fails to enliven her characterization of Taylor, whose tabloid exploits make Lohan’s look virtually pedestrian by comparison. Lohan is flat and inexpressive, even when she’s throwing one of Taylor’s temper tantrums, and she offers not an ounce of the star wattage that, for better or worse, made her character such a genuine movie star for a time.

Meanwhile, Burton may have been self-important, pretentious blowhard whose aptitude for delivering Shakespearean quotations was matched only by one for emptying vodka bottles, but Bowler is hopelessly out of his depths when trying to make literally any of those qualities remotely appealing. As a man whose cartoonish conviction as an actor was supposedly turned into teenage petulance by Taylor’s febrile sensuality, Bowler is in capable of either making himself seem attractive or Lohan seem worth the effort, ultimately coming across as little more than a rakish douchebag whose “love” for Taylor was another self-destructive addiction rather than any sort of genuine or meaningful romance.

But as awful as the performances by the two leads are, Monger’s script is ultimately to blame for the thin reediness of their characters, and the worse fact that there’s no story and no meaning to the entire production – unless you find meaningful thrills in watching impossibly rich white people act like children under the guise of “falling in love.” Is the fact that any of this happened reason enough for Liz & Dick to exist? Is there any real tragedy in the fact that these two immature morons couldn’t behave maturely enough to maintain even the semblance of a healthy relationship? I’m not so sure.

Lohan’s next project is a Bret Easton Ellis film in which she stars opposite an adult film actor, which seems to automatically destine that project for some kind of camp glory. But Liz & Dick is a disaster, in all of the wrong ways – it’s sadly so unenjoyable that there isn’t even ironic enjoyment to be taken. All of which leaves only the perhaps less obvious but more inevitable verisimilitude between the film’s story and Lohan’s career: that after an initially-intriguing series of ups and downs, a time may come when audiences accept that they’ve just had enough of her, and need to move on.

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