Lohan acts well but can’t quite capture Taylor in ‘Liz & Dick’

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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(L to R) Lindsay Lohan (Elizabeth Taylor) and Grant Bowler (Richard Burton) star in the Lifetime Original Movie, Liz & Dick, premiering on Lifetime. (Richard McLaren/Lifetime)

When Lindsay Lohan was in the middle of one of her tabloid dramas — which still seem unending — it was all too easy to forget that the person who had all those troubles was a pretty good actress, someone who brought on-camera skills to productions like Mean Girls and Georgia Rules. And she has fine moments in her newest film, Liz & Dick. Unfortunately, the movie is only intermittently satisfying. And the script and Lohan’s performance capture just a part of Taylor, the little-girl vulnerability, while failing to get at her bawdiness or sexual appetite. (The love scenes in the film are quite chaste, even by TV standards).

Premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on Lifetime, Liz & Dick charts the lives of Taylor and Richard Burton (True Blood’s Grant Bowler) from the beginning of their fiery romance through its collapse, and then the connection they maintained until Burton’s death in 1984. (Taylor died in 2011.)

It is a story of two people who seemed ill-matched — she a child of the movies, he a once-poor Welshman acclaimed for stage work including Shakespeare — but who not long after meeting on the set of Cleopatra became besotted with each other, torpedoing their respective marriages to others, and embarking on adventures that were very costly, both financially and emotionally.

Written by Christopher Monger (Temple Grandin), Liz & Dick puts the two stars together in a sort of post-mortem, with the talk serving as a commentary on the chronological presentation of their lives and some of its most famous vignettes — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf onscreen, for example, and conflicts and excess off, and the need to pay for all that excess leading to well-paid but artistically poor roles. Taylor’s mantra is “I want more” — more of Burton, more diamonds — but Burton is shown as wanting a lot of what Taylor has: not only real stardom, but an Academy Award to go with her two. (Burton was nominated seven times for Oscars, winning none. Taylor was two-for-five in addition to winning the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.) Burton was also a formidable drinker, and both are shown as sharp-tongued with each other.

Bowler is good enough, and he and Lohan prove a decent match in the later parts of the movie, when it is not so much about them playing two familiar faces as it is about two people with plenty of pain under their glamorous surfaces. But there are still those moments when Lohan has to be Taylor — much the way Michelle Williams embodies Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn — and cannot quite pull it off.

Part of that may be the difference in voice, Lohan’s raspy and a bit girlish when Taylor sounded clear and grown up, or just the burden of all the Taylor-making cosmetics and eyelashes Lohan has to wear even in scenes that are supposed to be informal. (Her look is especially bad in scenes of an aging Taylor dealing with Burton’s death.) Part, too, is there’s no amour fou in the Lohan-Bowler connection, no sense of a grand passion that is as undeniable as it is destructive. Liz & Dick is not so much a portrait of the couple as a study of them.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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