Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Paul Schrader's "The Canyons"
The following review was originally published in 2013 for the now defunct Grolsch Film Works.
The unlikely team-up of Lindsay Lohan and Paul Schrader behind The Canyons, the troubled starlet’s artful “comeback” film, unsurprisingly yields strange results. Lohan is Tara, who with her boyfriend Christian (James Deen), is helping produce a horror film with Gina (Amanda Brooks) whose boyfriend, Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) has the lead part. These are the principal characters of what is a melodrama virtually isolated to the interiors of sickly modern Canyon residences and restaurants. A web of secrets, lies, and dirty deeds entangles Tara, Christian, and Ryan, as they jockey for position: texting, drinking, and fucking (strangers, occasionally)—seemingly, their only three past times. Schrader’s Hollywood Hills figure as some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, barren of everything aside from its populous wealthy, whose vapid lives signify an artless landscape of cinema, where any aspirations involving the seventh art are beyond the frame, an unwelcome ghost merely haunting its attic.
The cold and unforgiving digital aesthetic feels synonymous with the sterility of the lives it dresses, the sheen-less mise en scène of high-resolution pixels revealing la dolce vita stripped of anything sweet. The Canyons is so relentlessly devoid of romanticism, refusing to indulge in what the characters of its film at least must consider pleasure, instead imbuing the entire film with static misery. In unwaveringly accomplishing this ambition, the film ultimately falls victim to it, as watching it is a definitively glacial experience. It is pointed though, even as it rarely penetrates its obvious surface observations, opting to exploit them for mood rather than anything truly insightful. What remains is a portrait by mirror of Lohan and everything her image connotes, and all the darkness the boulevard of broken dreams harbours.
However, the film is not made without empathy, even as its characters unknowingly possess the keys that could free them from the prison that oppresses them. A startling close-up of Lohan during the film’s penultimate scene find her at her most naked—even if she still is at her most fake—as the artificial tears of a washed up actress drench the face of the character she’s playing. In one striking moment, cheating lovers Ryan and Tara meet each other in a bedroom and embrace in alternating parallel tracking shots, locked into each other’s trajectory. They each think that in the other they see some sort of salvation, but it’s another dead end in a convoluted labyrinth of smoke, mirrors, cocaine, and blow jobs. At times the film achieves a quasi-Antonionism—and Schrader’s direction is tight and focused—but the end game is as unfulfilling as the beginning. But that’s the point. It would be tragic if it weren’t all so pathetic.