Lifetime is currently the world’s biggest troll. While its headquarters may or may not be under a bridge, it is behaving like an Internet troll, doing something negative in hopes for attention. Yes, I’m talking about Liz & Dick, its new original movie in which human Scared Straight documentary Lindsay Lohan tries to play screen legend Elizabeth Taylor. It airs tonight at 9 PM and will get all the attention Lifetime is hoping for. Outrage followed her casting and Lindsay does nothing to counter claims that she is not up to the job. But here we are – all talking about it and probably all watching. You can’t say trolls are not successful.
The problem with Liz & Dick is not that it’s bad (and it is as bad as getting bedbugs while you’re sick with the flu), but that it is not bad enough to be entertaining. There is no camp here. It is just blandly awful in a way that most Lifetime movies are. Actually, the TV movie, which chronicles Taylor’s long courtship and on-again-off-again relationship with actor Richard Burton, is exactly what we should expect. It’s a typical Lifetime TV movie. It hews close to the network formula: The two have a meet-cute on the set of Cleopatra, complete with faux-funny hijinks, and the plinky music is an aural cue for anyone who has ever enjoyed a bad movie marathon that they are watching a made-for-cable rom-com. And the film ends quite the same way, with tragedy and obstacle heaped upon misunderstanding and breakup until we discover, in the end, that they were the loves of each other’s lives in the first place.
And that is why Lifetime is a troll. We can’t fault it for providing the Platonic ideal of a “Lifetime movie” — that is what they are known for, after all. But somehow, we feel like we were promised more. This is Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor. The fact that she was cast in this project seemed to signal that the network would try harder, to give us something better than Amish Grace or Abducted: The Carlina White Story. But it doesn’t. Its big push to make this popular has nothing to do with quality, but rather the gimmick of hiring LiLo to play La Liz. It is a pure and brilliant troll.
As for Lindsay, she is atrocious. She doesn’t try to channel Taylor as if she was a serious actress going for the low-hanging fruit of a biopic Oscar. She just emotes either too much or not enough, shouting “I’m bored!” at a certain point with a flatness that only displays the ennui of the viewer. She cries, but you never see her wracked with sobs. And, worst of all, she never once shows the wit and charm that made Taylor a superstar worthy of a made-for-cable movie in the first place. No, perhaps even worse, there is no physical transformation at all. The whole time she looks like Lindsay in a wig. Taylor, whose weight fluctuated as much as Lindsay’s probation status, never gets bigger or smaller in the movie, even when trouble with her weight becomes a plot point. There is no passage of time or changing of emotion. The whole thing is static. Grant Bowler is fine as Burton, but no one is really paying any attention to him anyway. It’s probably the exact same problem Burton had in real life, so at least that is some verisimilitude we can take to the bank.
The movie itself is rather poorly constructed. We start with the last day of Burton’s life, a poor framing device that we return to again at the end. We also see Liz and Dick, wearing all black in a black room, sitting in black director’s chairs, commenting on the action because neither actors are good enough to convey what their characters are thinking or feeling in each scene. So they have to tell us about it. The rest of the narrative is written like a bad children’s book report: This happened, then this happened, then this happened, then this happened. Like an illustrated Wikipedia entry, there is no narrative arc or cause and effect relationship between the scenes. In the end, we never quite understand why they fell in love in the first place, why they fought so intensely, or why they ever stayed together.