Home > Film & stuff > My Thoughts on ‘The Canyons’

My Thoughts on ‘The Canyons’

Seemingly against all odds, The Canyons has arrived. I’ve been morbidly anticipating the film for quite a while now, so I sat down and ordered the movie through IFC on demand. This instant gratification method of watching films fits with the theme of the movie and it’s exactly what attracted veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader to the project. While promoting The Canyons, he’s talked extensively about the wonder of VOD and the death of big budget studio films. Even Spielberg and Lucas have chimed in as of late about the bloated tent-pole flicks and their imminent demise. I believe that’s what’s referred to as irony…

Anyway, Schrader has never really made “studio” pictures, though he has made bona fide classics, and writer Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t exactly practice in mainstream fare. To quote him via his Twitter feed, “Coldness. Amorality. Deadness. Vicious and Unsympathetic Characters. Endless Nudity. Violence. I like these things in movies.” Don’t we all. And I like Bret Easton Ellis, so my expectations, in spite of mixed/bad early reviews of the film, were relatively high. The film is cold and amoral, and the characters are generally unsympathetic, with the exception of Lindsay Lohan. But the film isn’t vicious. It wants to be, it tries to be, but it feels toothless.

Lohan plays a failed actress who’s in a loose, unconventional relationship with a trust fund baby/wannabe producer played by James Deen. If you haven’t followed the story of this production at all, Ellis heard about this popular male porn star (Deen) and had to have him as the lead. Schrader was understandably apprehensive, but Deen’s audition apparently won him over. Deen spends much of his time in the film being jealous of Lohan, cheating on her, and finding people on the Internet for the two of them to have sex with. Much has been made of the sex and nudity in the film, but it’s not as pervasive as some would lead you to believe. It’s more graphic than a lot of movies nowadays, but if you ever watched the erotic thrillers of the early ’90s like Basic Instinct, you won’t be surprised. And just imagine how Deen felt on set– he got to wear clothes almost all of the time! How strange…

There’s some loose plot about overlapping relationships, backstabbing, gay extortion, etc., but that’s not really the point. The film is more of an idea. It takes place in L.A., so it’s inherently a critique of L.A. culture. But it goes beyond that as a critique of the new social media generation, or the “post-Empire” generation as Ellis likes to refer to it. We live in a time now where people no longer have private lives. They share everything willingly online, which is funny considering the outrage over governmental domestic spying. We use our iPhones day in and day out to document not only our own lives but the lives of others. Privacy isn’t given a moment’s thought anymore and we have YouTube and World Star Hip Hop to prove it.

And that’s the society the characters in The Canyons personify. The problem is that they’re just not very interesting, which I suppose is appropriate. Vapid, entitled twentysomethings are boring. But not much about the film feels gripping or urgent or even provocative. Their conversations are flat, their sex is ho-hum, and even their arguments feel hollow because I’m not sure there’s much at stake. However, I’m as surprised to be writing this as you might be to be reading it– Lohan is quite impressive in this movie. Maybe my expectations were so low that I’m left with no other conclusion, but she gives a truly solid performance. As I mentioned earlier, she’s the only sympathetic character in the film, but I don’t think she’s written that way. She’s not a good person by any stretch, but Lohan plays the part with some real vulnerability that transcends the rest of the film. Her character is the only one that seemed to have any subtext. She sold me in spite of all my prejudices.

The movie isn’t awful, really. It’s just bland, which hurts me to say because I never thought a Paul Schrader/Bret Easton Ellis film starring a porn actor and a deeply troubled former child star would be bland. I enjoy cold, emotionless films about characters with no redeeming qualities. I just didn’t enjoy this one. Maybe I’m just a callous twentysomething who’s incapable of being shocked by anything anymore…

Nope, it’s just boring. Damn it.

  1. August 5, 2013 at 7:39 pm


  2. August 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I don’t know what to make of this flick. LA Weekly (take that as you will) completely eviscerated it, and E! Weekly thought it was great. Yours lies in the middle someday.

    I absolutely loathe Lindsay Lohan, so her being the star in this is enough to say I’ll most likely never waste my time with it. But good for James Deen, who I long to be reincarnated as his penis. He got to work with a heavy hitter like Schrader.

    • August 7, 2013 at 10:25 am

      And Schrader has had almost nothing but good things to say about Deen, which is really cool for him. I normally hate Lohan, too, but I really don’t think anyone else could have played this role. It’s just too bad it wasn’t much of a movie.

  3. August 5, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    *middle SOMEWHERE. I stink.

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