The Canyons (2013) Venice Film Festival 2013

May 5th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Paul Schrader

Script: Bret Easton Ellis

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Gerard Funk, Gus Van Sant, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston

A great director and writer doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good film: such is definitely the case for THE CANYONS, Paul Schrader’s much-anticipated ‘erotic’ thriller described as “Youth, glamour, sex and Los Angeles 2012”. Really?.

Matters got off to an unpromising start when it was reported that Leslie Coutterand had been on call throughout the entire filming process due to Lindsay Lohan’s repeated absences and feuds with the director, who had been forced to direct a scene naked just to placate her (?).  Finance was raised through a Kickstarter campaign, and the resulting film was rejected from Sundance and SXSW.  I was determined to give it a chance being a fan of Schrader’s earlier work, though not, I hasten to add, of Lohan.

As it is, she appears vaguely unhinged and physically bloated during her performance as young actress, Tara.  This is supposed to be a soft porn movie, so why is Lohan wearing a pair of Bridget Jones-style knickers under her leatherette treggings for an evening out with a girlfriend?. One can only assume it was to rein in her midriff from too much booze and cigarettes (consumed during the shoot). Sexy or what?

As suggested by the title, Tara is living with her producer boyfriend Christian (porn star James Deen) in a rather glamorous modernist house on the edge of the hillside, overlooking the ocean.  Theirs is not an easy relationship with Christian being a control-freak and demanding to know her schedule as he swings in from the studios to find her poolside.  He cleverly swaps her phone to discover text messages showing that she’s cheating on him with a pretty young actor called Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk).  When the camera starts zooming in on mobile phone screens, and relying on text messages to drive the narrative forward, one realises the whole story is doomed.

The strange thing about ‘soft porn movie’ The Canyons is that it’s possibly the least sexual film of the entire festival (apart from the Andrea Segre’s La Prima Neve). There are no real sex scenes to speak of but a great of deal of glowering, posturing and pouting goes on, largely between Lohan and Deen.  It transpires that Ryan, who is straight, has his own cross to bear: he is up for a juicy acting role, but to seal his success he may have to sleep with the gay head of the studios and is forced to receive oral sex with him just for starters.

What follows is a predictably troubled but unremarkable voyage through the seamier side of dysfunctional relationships. It almost feels like one of those ‘made for TV’ soaps you catch in a hotel room in Spain or Italy when surfing through the options looking for News.  In a cameo, Gus Van Sant plays Christian’s shrink, and it’s the best thing about the whole affair.  Brett Easton Ellis’s script is appalling with cardboard dialogue along the following lines:  “Are you cheating on me?  What d’you mean by cheating?  Well cheating, with another guy….

Please Mr Schrader, you’re such a talented man.  When you next make a film, make it with proper actors and a decent storyline. MT

THE CANYONS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 MAY 2014

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