Featuring porn star James Deen as a sociopathic trust-fund kid and gossip-column bad girl Lindsay Lohan as his dead-eyed girlfriend, “The Canyons” has been described by director Paul Schrader as “cinema for the post-theatrical era.”
Indeed, Schrader’s willfully trashy pic, poison-penned by L.A.-is-hell author Bret Easton Ellis (“Less Than Zero”), is bypassing all but a handful of U.S. cinemas in favor of a video-on-demand release that bids to bring its utter depravity into your very own home.
“The Canyons” — wherein Deen’s venal young millionaire discovers that the star of the slasher film he’s bankrolling has been trysting with his beloved Tara (Lohan) — is “post-theatrical” in other ways, as well. Schrader, best known for scripting the homage-laden “Taxi Driver” in the 1970s, began his working life as a critic, and there’s a sense in which “The Canyons” doubles as a scathing review of the current cinematic landscape, punctuated by dialogue that casually disparages creatively bankrupt filmmaking, and by haunting documentary images of boarded-up and crumbling movie theaters.
Of course, the dark joke of this film noir is that Schrader himself is wading in the scummy pool of anything-for-a-buck exploitation. But seriously, what else can an underfunded auteur do these days? Populated by evidently dimwitted and money-grubbing Hollywood flunkies, “The Canyons” isn’t just a portrait of what little integrity remains in the American film industry, but a product of it. His tongue firmly in cheek, Schrader has scraped the bottom of the barrel and shrewdly served it up as a last picture show — and as a sex- and drugs-stuffed lament for a former child star.
Speaking of whom, inquiring minds want to know: Can Lohan still act? Well, that depends entirely on your definition of acting. If great acting is about inhabiting a role so fully that the audience sees only the character and not the performer, then no, poor Lohan can’t act to save her life. But if the art of acting involves the actor laying herself bare, stirring emotions in the audience that are raw and real, she’s completely brilliant. In “The Canyons,” Lohan appears unreachably distracted and more than a little scared; at times, she looks like she’s genuinely falling apart. Call it a post-theatrical performance.
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An altogether sunnier study of young addicts and their complicated love lives, “Drinking Buddies” wins the spirit award for most brewskis ever consumed in a motion picture. Despite that woozy distinction, the movie somehow manages to stay upright as a comedy, which probably won’t earn it points in AA circles.
Olivia Wilde stars as an improbably beautiful brewery manager who gets high on her own supply while semi-flirtatiously hanging out with an affable co-worker (Jake Johnson). Both of them have steady partners — and those two (Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston) are secretly on the verge of hooking up, as well. Due for release to theaters near the end of the month, “Drinking Buddies” may not be the tastiest of rom-coms, but, as they say in bars, it’s sessionable.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.