Readers, my apologies for not getting this piece online last Wednesday. It is difficult enough to write about this period of Lindsay’s life, but it was impossible to do it properly without knowing whether this piece would have a happy ending. With last night’s broadcast of “Liz & Dick,” I got my answer. I hope you all watched.
Yesterday afternoon, a few hours before Lifetime aired the world broadcast premiere of “Liz & Dick,” their affiliated movie network aired a censored, cable-ready edit of “I Know Who Killed Me” in a stroke of brilliance. The latter film, shot in the early months of 2007, is a seminal film for fans of Lindsay Lohan. It is, for some of us, her greatest role. It is a film that sums up all of the reasons why support and love Lindsay. It is terrible, and at times almost unwatchably bad. But in the five and a half years that came between “I Know Who Killed Me” and “Liz & Dick,” we hung on to Lindsay, carefully watched her disappear from the screen but never from our consciousness.
It is a period I call “The Exile,” because that is precisely what it was. No one in the top tiers of Hollywood, where Lindsay was perched just a few short years before, will go near Lindsay. No one wants to be associated with her. Disney has never spoken on her behalf, despite the fact that she made them millions upon millions. She remains a fixture inside the entertainment bubble, but the world revolves around her, keeping its distance. For example, two summers ago, I had lunch with another young Hollywood ingenue with ever-changing hair. She had just bought an iPad, but she explained that she was cautious never to be photographed with it, because Lindsay had been showing hers off.
Marilyn Monroe, the prototypical tragic ingenue fell towards doom slowly and cautiously, fulfilling the narrative of her publicly sanctioned predestination. Part of the ongoing appeal of Marilyn is that, because she got high-profile work until the bitter end, we have convinced ourselves that we can watch her films, look into her eyes, and examine her downfall. Lindsay hasn’t worked, but that doesn’t mean there has been no such engagement. Lindsay remains visible due to photographs and headlines. They get worse and worse. There is an extraordinary Youtube video that you might have seen: It shows the timeline of Lindsay Lohan’s face from infancy until this past summer. At a certain point, perhaps a few years ago, she begins aging rapidly in unflattering pictures. And her legal troubles have similarly become worse. First there was the initial DUI and the second DUI on her suspended license. She gets probation and violates it and goes to jail, steals a bracelet, gets sentenced to prison, and violates probation again. It’s all too perfect: A downward spiral that has wound itself so low that its details become meaningless. The only thing that matters anymore is its perpetual motion south.
That’s why yesterday’s broadcasts of “I Know Who Killed Me” and “Liz & Dick” are so important. They are the beginning and end of a chapter in her life: The symbolic bookends of The Exile.
The Exile begins with the infamous letter from James G. Robinson, the CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, to the press. The shoot of “Georgia Rule,” Lindsay’s debut as an A-List dramatic actress, was so catastrophic that public humiliation become the production’s last resort. Unless the film became a blockbuster success, Lindsay would never be insurable again because of this letter.
“Georgia Rule” is bad film, based on an inept script about troubled women written by a man. The tri-generational story focuses on Rachel, an 18-year-old who was sexually abused by her father. The characterization is inconsistent, vague, and unrefined, as is the whole of the film. It tries to walk that dangerous fine line between familial tragedy and hearty comedy, and it fails in a big way. One would think a film about troubled women, played by interesting actors, might be weak but never boring. “Georgia Rule” is so tasteless and ludicrous that it gets exhausting before the first hour is up. The Lohan performance that ends up in the film is eerie, to say the least. She throws herself wholly into the project, reciting her foolish “serious” dialogue sincerely and adding a touch too much gravitas to her jokes, refusing to let them land. By no stretch of the imagination is it her fault that the film doesn’t work, but she became the scapegoat because of her behavior. Hollywood slammed the door on her heels on her way out.
After production wrapped, Lindsay spent a few months trying to get another Hollywood role together, but nothing worked out. Instead, she went to parties. Some were industry parties where she would be safe from cameras, but more often, she went out to civilian nightclubs, hanging out with DJs and fashion industry hanger-ons. She managed to get a number of notable independent productions that would be difficult, but would have saved her reputation as an actress. Lindsay was announced for the lead roles in film adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” as well as the romance “Speechless,” opposite Adrien Brody. The films were all scheduled to shoot in 2007, but none ever came together for Lindsay.
In January 2007, right in the middle of making “I Know Who Killed Me,” Lindsay checked into rehab for the first time. It wasn’t much of a rehabilition, though; Lindsay spent the day on set, shooting for 13 hours, and then went back to Promises. It would be her last time on a film set for two years.
“I Know Who Killed Me” is the definitive Lindsay Lohan film. Nothing else even comes close. A close reading of the film will tell you everything you need to know about her public image. In many ways, “I Know Who Killed Me” is, in many ways, a remake of “The Parent Trap” in which Lindsay must play two roles. This time, her two characters depict the Lindsay Lohan before-and-after. Aubrey is the apple of her parents’ eye and a talented young writer bound for Yale. Dakota is a night owl who works at a strip-club, has a foul attitude and seeks trouble. It has a presposterous twist ending that can only be described as “The Parent Trap” by way of “Sisters”-meets-“Hostel.” However, this is the best film to watch if you want to find out if Lindsay is actually a capable actress, able to elevate bad material and earn a viewer’s sympathies. The truth is that she can: Not everybody could make an amputee sex scene as convincing as Lindsay does. Perhaps because she shot the film during rehab, she is clearly working hard, committing herself blindly and coming through completely unscathed.
The bad news for Lindsay was that nobody saw “I Know Who Killed Me.” The film was released three days after Lindsay’s second DUI of 2007, and her favorability was at a major low. The Lindsay Lohan punch lines started up, and the film was laughed off with its inevitable bad reviews. The bad thing for Lindsay is that she could no longer make a film that wasn’t a Lindsay Lohan film. Her vehicles paid off and made her a star, and from there on out, she would always be the most famous actor in any film she would make. But Lindsay couldn’t even carry a low-budget horror B-movie past breaking even. She was unemployable.
The next five years were a whirlwind of court dates, disastrous red carpets, and depressing, desperate-for-attention photoshoots with Terry Richardson. Her DUI’s and rehab stints made her unemployable, so all of her upcoming films were cancelled. When she could find work, it was only for a few days at a time, and they were thankless roles a movie star would never consider: A topless vixen in a Robert Rodriguez grindhouse film, a few episodes on “Ugly Betty,” and a made-for-TV family comedy were all she could muster. Not making any money from films, Lindsay’s millions started to dwindle after taxes and lawyer fees, and she started having to sell interviews to tabloid outlets and tipping off photographers.
Suddenly, in 2012, a year in which Samantha Ronson is old news and “Mean Girls” is still a staple of the American diet, things started working out. She was let off the hook by the courts with a relaxed probation, hosted an episode of SNL, and successfully fought for the role of Elizabeth Taylor in a Lifetime biopic. She shot the film over the summer, becoming the most insured actress ever to walk onto a soundstage. The production was interrupted by a car accident, and Lindsay told police it wasn’t her fault because she wasn’t behind the wheel.
Critics took their knives out and pounced. The entire film was a debacle. It was cheap-looking and shoddy, full of careless anachronisms, excruciating dialogue, and deliberately meta moments when Liz cries into her morning newspaper. For the first time, Lindsay embarrasses herself as an actress. She is not merely out of practice. She is so unwatchable, the film doesn’t even have camp value. Perhaps it is jarring to see Lindsay Lohan playing Liz Taylor, for obvious reasons, but Lindsay just doesn’t work hard enough, and the whole world watched the hyped-up post-ironic Happening for the sake of schadenfreude.
But I am optimistic. What does last night’s broadcast remind you of? It reminds me of Britney Spears’ 2007 VMA performance. In “Liz & Dick,” Lindsay hit rock bottom for the whole world to see. The downward spiral finally stopped sinking for two hours, and it just stayed stagnant as Elizabeth Taylor’s rolled in her catacomb. Lindsay will likely be back in jail in the next week once her probation is revoked over that car accident. She could be there for a year, maybe a few months if she’s lucky. Maybe she’ll take the time to figure it all out. Perhaps she’ll leave the business for good. More than ever before, it’s up to her. The Exile has ended and a new chapter begins.
Incidentally, the next film we’ll see her in is “The Canyons,” in which she plays a woman named Tara. Yes, Tara. As in: Tomorrow is another day.