The Canyons

By Di Golding

Mailed on April 02, 2014

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Dear Steven Soderbergh
Editor (Almost)

Dear Steven,

When I first heard about The Canyons, _I was morbidly curious. A Bret Easton Ellis script directed by Paul Schrader, starring porn star James Deen and America's favourite trainwreck, Lindsay Lohan? I remember thinking to myself, _it's so crazy it just might work! And less than a second later thinking: it will be terrible. Though the result is closer to my second thought, what I find most frustrating is that the film had the potential to be greater than the sum of it's parts. Is that how you felt too?

In Stephen Rodrick's behind-the-scenes article in the New York Times, he documents Schrader's and Ellis' vision of making a sexy, expensive-looking thriller on the cheap. What comes through most powerfully is James Deen's refreshing professionalism amid Lindsay's hiring, firing, re-hiring and on-set hijinx--as well as the interesting fact that when Schrader showed you his cut of the film, you offered to edit it if he gave you 72 hours. He refused, which left me wondering: what would you have done differently?

I suppose it depends on what you might have found hiding in all the unseen footage. If what Schrader has assembled is the best he had to cut from, you may have had a difficult time even putting together a trailer. Were you confused as I was about how the guy who wrote American Psycho and the guy who directed American Gigolo ended up making a film that should have been called American Tedium? Or would you have renamed it sex, lies and zzzzzz?

The plot you would have been working with is paper-thin: Christian, a controlling trust-fund kid, frolicks in a glossy manse with his financially and emotionally dependent girlfriend, Tara. When not funding slasher flicks, he spends his time trolling dating apps and organizing random hookups for he and Tara. Though their relationship appears to be open, when Christian learns of Tara's affair with Ryan, the lead of his movie, his obsession leads to violence.

It would be too easy to blame the leads for the film's flatness, but I'm not sure that better actors could have roused such listless dialogue. James' sociopathic Christian is a cookie-cutter Ellis villain, all swagger and smirk. Lindsay plays Tara as a 21st century version of Sharon Stone's Ginger from Casino, a hot mess unable to buy her way out of her past (if that sounds like Lindsay playing Lindsay, maybe you should hire her for your next project). Despite the hackneyed script, her talent is more plentiful than her demons; the rest of the cast is as forgettable as the words dripping from their pretty mouths.

What The Canyons lacks in suspense it tries to make up for with sex, but it fails there, too. I understand that this film is not a porno, but with so many comically porn-centric tropes you can't really fault me for being disappointed. Ryan visits his boss Randall for an advance. Randall casually strolls around his desk so his crotch is eye level with Ryan and gives him the old "I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement"-chestnut, which leads to…nothing. Ryan and his girlfriend Gina are in a hot tub discussing Christian and Tara's open sexual relationship which leads to…more nothing. Ryan gets called into the production office by his producer Reed, who tells him he'll be fired unless they have sex. A literal casting couch scenario. It's the porn plot as old as, well, porn, which leads to - you guessed it - less than zero. Even the much-hyped money shot - a foursome between Christian, Tara and another hetero couple - is filmed in the dark and lit like a warehouse rave. The movie is all set up and no pay-off. It's as if Ellis and Schrader are getting off on almost making porn. If I had balls, by the end of ninety minutes, they would have been the colour of a Malibu sky.

Why am I telling you this, Stepehen? Because you made The Girlfriend Experience, a film about an escort, starring porn star Sasha Grey, that was virtually devoid of sex and took a nuanced look at an alienated young woman in an age of mass materialism. The doc-style cinematography and improvised nature hinted at something deeper. The Canyons touches on similar matters of superficiality, but without the irony. The angular spaces and chilly whites bring to mind the cool noir of an episode of Miami Vice--but this one is soaked in Ambien.

If what I read about The Canyons is true, the real drama was behind the camera. So promise me this one thing: if you ever get your hands on that footage, you will assemble it into a making-of documentary. That's where we'll find a juicy story and some depth of character. No offense, but I'd rather see that than_ another bloody _Ocean's _movie._

Sitting this hike out,


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