Liz & Dick – A review

Sweet baby Jesus, that was terrible.

When I first heard that Lifetime was planning on doing a biopic on the love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, I just kind of shrugged at the idea. It did seem like a story that was up their specific alley and with Elizabeth Taylor recently passing away, it was fairly topical. Not something that I would tune in for, but sounded perfectly harmless.

When they announced that Lindsay Lohan was going to be portraying Elizabeth, a part of me was relieved that Taylor was already dead because that news probably would have killed her. Asking Lohan to play Taylor and hyping the movie by trying to compare their lives was tremendously disrespectful to the memory of Taylor, who had more talent in her little finger than Lohan has in her entire body. Liz & Dick was now going to be a true train wreck — and there was no way I was going to miss it. Schadenfreude, baby.

Based on Lohan’s track record, I figured it was about even odds that they would have to recast the role before production stopped. I really didn’t think that there was any way that Lohan could get through filming without a) some sort of medical emergency – likely the all-encompassing “exhaustion;” b)getting herself arrested – probably from yet another hit and run c) so infuriating her co-stars and the crew that there was no choice to fire her. Despite some of these things happening, Lohan was able to hold it together long enough to fulfill her commitment, though the producer of the film would admit that working with Lohan “is not for the faint of heart.”

Having now watched Liz & Dick, it was as spectacularly bad as I anticipated. While the biggest problem with the movie is the casting of Lohan, I was surprised to see that her presence was far from the only flaw of the film. Liz & Dick looked slated to be a failure regardless of the lead actress – Lohan’s terrible acting only exasperated the inevitable. In other words, this movie was going to be a turkey from the first time the director said “Action.”

This is not to diminish how truly abysmal that Lohan is. She really is horrendous. Considering Liz & Dick is supposed to tell the story of a passionate love affair, it is troublesome that Lohan seems incapable of showing any emotion. She has a blank stare on her face for many scenes which would lead you to believe that she was doing the film against her will. When she does try to emote, it has all the sincerity of a bad high school play. In scenes where Taylor is supposed to be angry, Lohan reduces the woman to a toddler. She has zero chemistry with her co-star Grant Bowler (True Blood, Ugly Betty).  In what I assume is supposed to be the most dramatic moment of the film – Taylor learning of Burton’s death – I had to bite my tongue not to laugh. Lohan’s depiction of these events was so terrible and over the top that you’d think this was an SNL sketch rather a moment of heartbreak.

Not helping matters is that Lohan rarely looks or sounds anything like the legendary Taylor. The basically slapped various wigs on Lohan and gave her violet contact lens and called it a day. You never once forget that you are watching Lindsay Lohan in the film and it is beyond distracting; as far as I know, Taylor’s voice never sounded like she ate a carton of cigarettes daily. There are a few brief moments when Lohan does briefly resemble Taylor, but those are so fleeting and far between that they do not help Lohan disappear into the role. Worst of all, though the film spans 30 years and references are made in the dialogue to changes in Taylor’s appearance, they do nothing to alter Lohan’s appearance other than switching wigs. In a scene where they are discussing Taylor’s weight gain, Lohan is just as svelte as she is in every other scene of the movie. In fact, she’s wearing a belt that actually emphasizes how skinny she is. 50 year old Taylor looks almost exactly the same as 30 year old Taylor. It’s all ridiculous.

I don’t know if Gran Bowler is serviceable as Richard Burton or he is just less terrible than Lohan. He’s not outstanding, but his Burton has slightly more depth than Lohan’s Taylor (though both are in the shallow end of the pool).  None of Burton’s legendary larger than life persona makes it into the film. Bowler is too restrained in the role and fails to capture the true essence of the man he is playing. He is so completely overshadowed by the failings of his co-star, however, that by comparison Bowler comes out of this project not looking all that terrible.

Neither star is helped by the script and the cheap production value of the sets and costume design. The story fails to make either Burton or Taylor particularly interesting and there is little to no character development. The movie tries to cover too much ground so it comes across as a very cursory look at what is supposed to be one of the greatest loves of all time. They jump from Taylor’s disinterest in Burton to a passionate affair without any explanation of how they feel in love or what changed her mind. The film meanders from one life event to the next and the whole thing feels haphazard and undercooked. Burton and Taylor were a lot of things, but two dimensional is not one of them.

The production value of the film is also laughable. Throughout the film, Lohan wears a ring that is supposed to resemble to giant diamond that Burton bought Taylor, but the ring looks more like a clear piece of plastic than a priceless diamond. The sets all look like sets; the scenes in Italy are especially laughable. I understand that Lifetime may not have the budget of other networks, but the whole thing looked cheap and thrown together.

The film also employed the questionable device of having Lohan and Bowler, dressed all in black and in director’s chairs, reminisce about the events that we are watching unfold. It was an odd choice and I’m not sure what we’re supposed to think of it – are Burton and Taylor supposed to be dead in these scenes? – and it only serves to further distract from an already clunky movie. It also doesn’t add much to the story or character development. I give them credit for trying something different, but it just doesn’t work.

It’s also worth mentioning that though I tend to consider myself a bit of a film snob, I don’t consider myself above Lifetime movies. Back in college and in my early twenties, lounging on the couch on a Sunday and watching a bunch of Lifetime movies was a favorite pastime of my friends and me (personal favorites: She Woke Up Pregnant and Mother May I Sleep with Danger?). They provide a very specific kind of enjoyment and I don’t hold them up to the same standard that I do other films. Though I don’t watch them very often now, I will admit to checking out their depictions of the Amanda Knox trial, the Drew Peterson story (featuring Rob Lowe) and The Craig’s List Killer (who also lived in Albany). Even by my lowered Lifetime standards, Liz & Dick was really bad.

Some other thoughts:

  • I’m guessing the production budget was completely blown on the ubiquitous cigarettes that Lohan smokes throughout the film. She has a smoke in her hand through much of the movie and you know that she didn’t get those shots done in one take.
  • Totally random – Creed from The Office turns up in a scene. It’s completely unexpected and also distracting.
  • Other familiar faces that have minor roles – the actor who played Maxwell Sheffield on The Nanny (Charles Shaughnessy) and the guy who played Steve on Sex and the City (David Eigenberg). Both of these men need a better agent.
  • My favorite ridiculous line of the entire film (and there were many to choose from): “I don’t loathe you, I hate you.” (Taylor to Burton). Someone on the writing staff must have received a new thesaurus, but wasn’t sure how to use it.
  • The brief scenes where Lohan tries to depict Taylor acting in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are particularly awful.
  • I have to say, I’m kind of psyched that this film was as bad as advertised. I saw a lot of movies over the Thanksgiving break – reviews to come – and I liked them all. I thought I was getting soft, but this movie reinforced that I still can hate on things with the best of them. I’m relieved I haven’t lost my touch, even if this is an easy target.
  • People were very curious about Liz & Dick, as the movie did well in the ratings. I assume that most people were hate-watching the film, but this has probably only encouraged Lifetime to continue down this path. Before you know it, we’ll see Rihanna and Chris Brown in “The Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown Story.” Doesn’t matter why people are watching; all that matters is that they are watching.
  • I have to say, if the ever bring the team from Mystery Science Theater 3000 back, Liz & Dick is a prime candidate for a film for them to mock.

I think I’ve run out of ways to say how horrific this film was. Trust me – it was bad. But if you want to check it out, Lifetime will be re-airing the film several times during the week (check your local listings). It’s really something you have to experience for yourself. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton deserved better than this.