Brave television pioneers across the country, undeterred by reports of wooden acting and clunky dialogue, have been outfitting their conestoga wagon of a living room with Barefoot pinot noir and pizza flavored Combos (don't judge me) in anticipation of tonight's 9:00 pm premiere of Liz & Dick on Lifetime. Everyone's going to strap in for a journey through Lindsay Lohan's basic cable portrayal of one of America's greatest film actresses, and if that doesn't seem like the fairest way to have Lindz begin her acting comeback, just remember: Lifetime movies are pretty much their own genre, and that genre is decidedly campy.
Still, acknowledging this fact hasn't stopped critics such as Salon's Willa Paskin from leveling some pretty harsh judgments about the movie as a whole ("for the first half-hour, there is no scene more than 45 seconds"), and Lohan's performance ("she can flirt and giggle, but she makes a hash of the difficult stuff"). It's not all bad, but Paskin makes it pretty clear that, after even the most pleasantly wine-soaked and weed-toasted of Liz & Dick viewings, it becomes painfully clear that Lindsay "The Wasted Talent" Lohan is merely a myth spun by the opportunistic producers who saw a chance to score big ratings on a TV melodrama about Liz Taylor. Paskin writes that, although Lohan does a fine enough job in the talking-head moments during which she's musing on her relationship with Richard Burton, she's seriously overmatched by the legacy (and talent) of the on-screen Liz Taylor:
In these Actor's Studio moments Lohan acquits herself surprisingly well. The destruction Lohan has wreaked on her own voice - it's the come-hither, smoky growl of an equally jaded, but much older woman - works perfectly here. And with no blocking or costumes or screeching to worry about, she's almost decent. The same cannot be said of her performance when blocking and costumes and screeching are involved. (And yes, Lohan is made to do Taylor doing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf's" Martha. It's by miles the most unfair thing Lohan has to do in the whole movie, though you may have to go brush up on Taylor's unreal, expectation-exploding performance as Martha to realize it.)
The legend of Lohan hinges on the fable that she is a wasted talent, a preternatural and skilled child star who made one good grown-up movie - "Mean Girls"- and then squandered her talent on fame. (Say what you will about the hubris of Lohan playing Taylor, but Taylor and Burton knew a thing or a hundred about this particular bargain.) But child actors, especially the kind Lohan was in "The Parent Trap" and her wonderful "Freaky Friday" can get away with a cutesy directness, a workmanlike stagey quality that comes across as phony in adult actors. In child actors, effort can make up for a lack of believability. Trying hard counts when you're a kid. But Lohan has never been able to quite erase this fakery from her adult performances. Her natural talent does not scan as particularly natural, and she has long since abandoned being a hard worker.
That's a pretty in-the-cold-light-of-day assessment, but, unlike some of the snippier critics who lamented the casting of Lohan from the get-go, Paskin's criticism seems pretty measured, especially since she's well aware that, after all, Liz & Dick is only a Lifetime movie, and trying to evaluate it in terms of a serious dramatic production would be as unfair as criticizing a slasher movie for including scenes with unrealistic blood splatter: