Right now I am living for positive reviews of The Canyons. I’m skulking around Rotten Tomatoes, clinging to the scant 22% of the fruit not withered away with contemptuous cynicism.
Salon is generous enough to tout it as their pick of the week (“No, I’m not kidding” the byline apologizes), saying “Lindsay Lohan…gives an extraordinary performance that may not exactly be acting, or that blurs the imprecise boundaries between acting, psychotherapy and autobiography. Lohan is a relic of the recent past, both noble and pathetic, a leftover fragment of a boom that abruptly went south.” Okay, so it’s kind of backhanded, but “extraordinary performance” is in there.
Kurt Loder tepidly raves, “The Canyons isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year. It’s not even the worst movie I’ve seen this summer.” Well then! Suck it, Grown Ups 2.
I know I shouldn’t care if people like The Canyons. Just like I shouldn’t have felt sad when I Know Who Killed Me imploded. Or when we all Twitter-heckled Liz and Dick to death. And I definitely shouldn’t be hoping on a wistful, kid-at-Christmas wish that this time—yes, this time!—LiLo is totes serious about kicking the sauce.
And yet. Here I am, almost ten years since Lindsay Lohan has made a movie worth watching, holding my breath at the notion that this is the time she makes it work.
I can’t sit here and defend Lohan’s behavior in her adult life, which has barely spanned a decade that seems like a punchline eternity in our pop culture pantheon. I cannot say that she deserves the numerous opportunities she’s been given by our fucked-up justice system, because she doesn’t. I will not excuse away her recklessness and self-involved discretions with lamentations over her rotten parents or evaporated childhood.
Why I “want her to win,” as Oprah proclaimed today, is less about excuses and more about craving a new narrative.
I am sick to death of the old Hollywood, bitches be cray-cray story. Poor, doe-eyed girl gets the beauty and light beat out of her by the stardom, and life becomes too much for her frail heart to handle. “Such a tragedy,” the world sighs as another woman slips into the undertow, like a collective celebrity-obsessed orgasm as a star, yet again, meteorically rises and burns out into dust. I hated hearing this story as a child, the epitaphs for Judy Garland to Marilyn Monroe. “Life just became too hard for them,” adults would boil addiction and decimated self-esteem down for me. As I grew up I saw Amy Winehouse, Princess Diana and Anna Nicole Smith claimed by the same trope; dissolved as the world watched.
Lindsay Lohan has, since checking into her first rehab stint in 2007, led the charge of starlet death watch. Not a tabloid print run passes without another report on the hearsay sources of just how fucked up this girl is. The stories of Lohan drinking, fighting, and stumbling in and out of Chateau Marmont aren’t reported to everyone on the planet because this shared notion of her demise lends her a chance at redemption. It’s an amusement that sells now that the movie tickets won’t. Because, as the story goes, you can only be so damaged before the world doesn’t want you anymore.
This is what TMZ and US Weekly and E! True Hollywood Story feeds us, the easy-to-digest version of trajectory. Amanda Bynes will always be crazy because she suffers from mental illnesses right now. Rihanna will always date sadistic men because she’s been beaten once before. Lindsay Lohan will always be an addict because she was an addict. If I had the press writing me off for the mistakes I made in my early twenties, I would be just as doomed.
For those of us not stalked by paparazzi and reporters during every waking moment, we find ways of overcoming the bad choices. The darkest, poorest decisions carve the richest character. We wrestle our demons of addiction, abuse, bad judgement, ill fortune and minimize our burdens to climb further through life. The best of us can capture and sharpen that pain into creative weaponry, spears and daggers and beacons forged from our personal darkness. Open any literary memoir, walk through any art gallery, listen to any poet fillet her heart. Ghosts and wisdom.
I’m not sure that Lindsay Lohan is capable of being an exceptional artist, but she is capable of choosing to grow instead of regress from her experiences. That’s not a special trait. It’s humanity. If she’s not great at telling stories in front of a movie camera any more, she could at least share the most valuable lesson to the lens perma-focused on her tiny universe. “I fucked up and I moved on.”
Troubled actress stays clean, grows up, makes not the worst movie Kurt Loder has seen all year. The world, no matter how cruel, does not have to be too much for a woman to take. It’s the new narrative that I refuse to surrender to cynicism.