When the New York Times Magazine ran a story earlier this year about the making of The Canyons, a low-budget movie starring troubled actress Lindsay Lohan and porn actor James Deen, the piece was given the title “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan In Your Movie.” That the magazine went in that direction, even though the piece, which was substantially about the megalomania of director Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, but who hasn’t been involved in a significant film in two decades, could have been called “Here Is What Happens When You Let Paul Schrader Direct What He Thinks Is A Masterpiece,” was telling. An actress in the process of falling apart, whether because of substance abuse, mental illness, or an upbringing that left her without any social or professional skills, is always going to be riper for the picking by vultures than an older man with a certain pedigree, who is granted a protective cloak of dignity, even when he’s acting ridiculous.
So it’s no surprise that the trailer for The Canyons leads with a monologue by Lohan about the movies, which ends with her saying “Maybe it’s just not my thing. Anymore.”
Lohan is probably more valuable to the entertainment industry writ large enough to include gossip and pop culture journalism as a train wreck than she ever was as a promising young actress. That’s also true for Amanda Bynes, who appeared in court earlier this week to answer charges that she tossed a bong out of a window, and who apparently decided that a blue wig was appropriate court attire. But even though it’s not clear that either of these young women will ever return to productive acting work — though goodness knows men like Jason Bateman, Rob Lowe, and Robert Downey Jr. have managed to build creatively and financially productive second acts for themselves — but in the midst of these current messes, it seems worth remembering that these women were interesting in the first place because they’re talented. That doesn’t mean they should be enabled, but rather that if at some point, they want to come back and work and can demonstrate that they have the ability to do so on a consistent basis, their past successes should count for something, just as Schrader’s did.
Here’s Lohan up against Lizzy Caplan, whose career has taken a much more conventional path, in Mean Girls, in a scene where she has much less juicy dialogue to work with:
And here’s Bynes in Hairspray, a reminder that she had genuine double-threat potential, that the idea of her having a music career is not actually as ludicrous as it’s been made out to be in the midst of her current round of bad publicity:
I don’t have much in the way of hope that anyone will stop covering Bynes and Lohan’s misadventures at this point: they’re simply too profitable. But I hope we can remember performances like these, too, and not just because they give us fodder to cluck about how sad these stories, what a waste it all is. If they want those chances someday and are able to take them professionally, it would be nice if someone was willing to hire them based on their actual skills, and not, like Schrader, for the vulgar train wreck factor.