Tuned In

TV Weekend: Liz and Dick

Liz and Dick is possibly the worst TV movie of the year, and therefore probably the most successful.

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LIFETIME

You likely opened this review expecting me to call Liz and Dick the worst TV movie of the year. I cannot do that. There are SyFy Saturday-night movies I haven’t watched, and cable public-access productions, and industrial-safety videos.

But Liz and Dick is possibly the worst TV movie of the year, and therefore probably the most successful. Mind you, I don’t know if Lifetime intended its Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton biopic to be a must-watch disaster from the beginning. But it must have cast Lindsay Lohan knowing the rubbernecking attention she would get. Also, its executives have eyes; they’ve seen the movie and released it to critics anyway.

Hate-watching counts as much in the ratings as watching, and we each have our role to play in this. The Hollywood press must churn out Lohan articles, you must call up your friends for viewing parties, and critics must dutifully warn you of what you are about to enjoy / suffer through/ live-tweet on Sunday.

[Cracks knuckles.] Fine. Let’s do this thing.

The first thing you notice in Liz and Dick is its star—not Lohan, but the makeup mole on her right cheek. It’s strategically positioned in a black-and-white photo montage behind the credits; it’s the first thing the camera catches as we see Taylor lounging by a pool the first time Burton (Grant Bowler) lays eyes on her.

That mole does more to establish Lohan credibly as Taylor than 90 minutes’ performance (though hair styling and violet-eye effects play important supporting roles). When Lohan is made up and still—slinking in a doorway, glowering into a mirror—the illusion is nearly complete.

But when she opens her mouth, it’s all over. Lohan simply never becomes another person the length of the movie: whether she’s meant to be showing spunk or pique or passion, she gives nearly every line the flat delivery of the first read-through of a high-school play. Even when she hurls a bottle at Bowler during a fight, it’s lackadaisical, as if she expects the wall to catch it.

We’re meant to see Taylor, who we meet with Burton at the filming of Cleopatra, as a former child star who has blossomed into formidable womanhood. Scratch that—as Burton holds forth floridly, she’s “now a beautiful woman, with the depths of the ocean in your violet eyes and the promise of a ripe plum in your soft firm* lips and your spilling, white-hot bosom.”

* In her hilarious review at Buzzfeed, Kate Aurthur renders this word as “foam.” We discussed the discrepancy, we both listened to Bowler’s inpenetrable Welsh “f–m” countless times and we concluded that neither of us is entirely sure what he said (film? flume?). But either word makes about as much sense in the context of a ripe plum (or is it a plume?).

The camera does make sure we get the white-hot bosom. But everything else, from Lohan’s bored affect to her overcompensating boo-hoo-ing, screams Girl Playing Dressup. A warning: do not play a drinking game of any kind during Liz and Dick. By the time Lohan is playing a 52-year-old Taylor, hair enflamed in a mid-’80s mane and falling to her knees beside Burton’s grave, you too will be killed by alcohol.

Credit where due, however: Lindsay Lohan cannot make a movie this bad by herself. There’s an ample assist from the screenwriting, which strings together soap-opera lines (“I won’t live without you!” “No more LIES!” “You haven’t lost me, I’ve lost you”) into a production you might expect to see Jenna Maroney in on 30 Rock.

Bowler is bound to come off better in comparison as the drunken, hyperbolic Burton, but his delivery sometimes swings from passion to Sideshow Bob bluster. Between Lohan’s flatness and Bowler’s laboring, their coupling is like a gender-reversed equivalent of Anne Hathaway and James Franco co-hosting the Oscars, him overstraining to drag her performance along. There’s no chemistry between them, only gravity.

And that’s pretty much the ballgame, since the point of Liz and Dick, such as it is, is that the two of them together were dangerous magic, bad for each other but irresistible on screen, in the tabloid pages and in bed. The script walks them through their meeting—each already married—and their courtship, first chronicled during the Cleopatra shoot by the Italian paparazzi.

It’s a simple story, but the script holds our hands through it anyway. Burton and Taylor occasionally break the fourth wall to talk to us while sitting in director’s chairs, as if in their own DVD commentary. Thus we see Taylor stalk off from Burton on first meeting him on Cleopatra, then cut to her telling us “No, I didn’t like him right away.” A flash-forward scene to an older Burton early in the movie ends with the Monty Pythonesque screen title: “The last day of Richard Burton’s life.” Later, when a Taylor reads that Burton’s been shagging a co-star, here’s her emotional journey: in literally ten seconds she sobs, tosses two glass objects, then picks up the hotel phone and says “Yes, get me Aristotle Onassis,” ordering a revenge courtship like room service.

But the script isn’t why you’re watching this movie, is it? Like the duo’s casting in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—of which we see a brief, hilarious re-enactment with Lohan sneering, “You make me puke!”—Liz and Dick is meant partly to trade on the meta real-life resonance of its star’s biography. Virginia Woolf got buzz because its couple’s ugly fights and jealousies mirrored Burton and Taylor’s tabloid ones; and Liz and Dick shamelessly invites us to watch one troubled former child actress playing another.

That’s the point where Liz and Dick, if you stop to think about it, becomes a little less fun to gawk at. Lifetime’s publicity for the movie hasn’t been subtle about the parallels, standing a sultry Lohan next to, in block letters, “CONTROVERSIAL… PROVOCATIVE… SCANDAL.”

Hollywood history plays first as tragedy and second as farce. The second time, with Lohan, it involved Herbie: Fully Loaded, not National Velvet; rehab and shoplifting, not sexy carousing in swinging Europe; and a mom with a reality-TV show, not a brooding, free-spending Welsh thespian. All of it capped off, here, with a basic-cable network casting her in a role she’s plainly unsuited for, to add ripped-from-the-headlines buzz to a so-bad-ya-gotta-see-it biopic.

That story, though, is affecting and sympathetic in its own way. In fact, it’d make a good movie someday. I hope they get someone better to play her.

12 comments
linnie
linnie

wow,  what rubbish.  Linsay was a good actress,   that is ,,,,"was".. past tense. But shes gotten older and had hardly any acting jobs just booze and drugs, So of course she isnt good.  And Liz and Burton were the two best. I dont think anyone could do elizabeth taylor.  I say give her a break for trying. But her acting days are over.. She should of not waited so long to clean up her act. I almost feel sorry for her.I havent seen the movie, but I can imagine. Like I said though I think Elisabeth Taylor was extrodinary actress and really I cant see anyone doing her as good as she was.I know I couldnt. So two thumbs up for the effort, :(

Andr3w_Ezz
Andr3w_Ezz

This was so awful it was AMAZING. I am going to spend the week badgering people into watching it so we can talk and laugh together. It is an iconic piece of mediocrity that will go with Showgirls beautifully. 

In the comments section of another article of the movie someone online posted a fan theory that it seemed like the movie was longer but only every other scene got played, as well as someone else wondering if Megan Fox could've done better. 

But beyond any one particular performance the editing was lazy & disjointed, the green screen was SyFy levels of bad and the story wasinaccurate, confusing and boring. It was a failure on every level but ratings. I genuinely do like Lindsay and while I was laughing, and willcontinue to every time I see it, I hope that she can get herself together & become successful enough that one day she'll be able tolaugh at this just as hard with us.

paulliztayorschieve
paulliztayorschieve

they had there moment in the sun.Still it is shame that they did not take this more serious,so the critics say.Lindsay has been away from her craft to long.she needs to find her balls and squeeze them, but first she must deceide what she wants. she also needs to take control of her interviews like an adult, not a child trying to be an adult.well i am going to watch to see how good or bad it is.  i like who was afraid of virgina wolf, if you have not seen it, do. liz had a lote of power in the industry,thats why she could get away with what she did.what did she know?what happened to allow this, we all have our thoughts on this.it could of been a great movie, but it does take everyone.as i said they already had there moment in the sun, big time.

Baileyjane
Baileyjane

I knew it would be bad when I heard that Lindsay was play Liz. There is no way she could ever play such an accomplished actress as Elizabeth Taylor. Who came up with that?

IWishIGAF
IWishIGAF

Lindsay should stick to singing because that is where her strength is - not acting, she is a terrible actress. It was her co-stars in Mean Girls that made the movie great, not her, anybody could have played her role. Every other role after Mean Girls was crap and really illustrated her lack of acting ability. She is as bad as Beyonce.

midlifemixtape
midlifemixtape

@MarinkaNYC @SFGate critic said the same. I'm setting alarms so I won't miss it.

Heath.1196
Heath.1196

I didn't think that it premiered yet. Could you share how you came up with these radical, opinionated, critiques? How much information could you base your article from with a 1 minute television commercial. Lindsay would not have been my first pick to resemble the multiple talents and fame of such an amazing person as Elizabeth Taylor, but you must have some leap of faith in a T.V. made film THAT HASN'T EVEN BEEN AIRED YET!

poniewozik
poniewozik like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Heath.1196 I saw the entire work in advance. This is the principle by which most advance TV, movie, music and book reviews you have ever read operate. It is also hinted at in my sentence, "Also, its executives have eyes; they’ve seen the movie and released it to critics anyway." You almost got me, though!

Poppersci
Poppersci

You should have written this entirely in the interrogative, like a certain other bad review. Did you drop the ball, Poniewozik?

Lucelucy
Lucelucy like.author.displayName 1 Like

Well, damn.  After all that knuckle-cracking and rallying of the TV Team, I'm afraid I can't bring myself to join you Sunday evening.  I feel like I'm letting down the side, but there must be someplace else I've promised to be.  I'm sure there is.  Has to be.