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The Canyons review: where’s the cheese?

The Canyons red light Lindsay Lohan

This pitiful would-be-sleazy melodrama is so terrible it can’t even manage to be cheesy.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

More like The Chasms. Chasms of awfulness. Of oh-my-god-ness. Of repulsiveness. Of hilarity. This pitiful would-be-sleazy melodrama is so terrible it isn’t even cheesy. How do you make a movie about bored rich people spying on one another and manipulating one another and having random sex with strangers and pretending to be blasé about making movies and not end up with screamingly trashy cheese? That’s a shocking lack of professionalism right there alone. Everyone onscreen — up to and including lost soul Lindsay Lohan (Machete) and porn star James Deen (Anal Buffet 8), whose talents would appear to be smaller than his physical endowments — actually appears to believe this is a serious drama requiring Solemnity and Art. He’s a movie producer (just to have something to do), she’s his girlfriend (because she is averse to work and addicted to shopping), he imagines she’s having a thing with the star of his movie (Nolan Funk: House at the End of the Street), and he’s right. Cue entitled jealousy. Cue tantrums thrown all around. Every other scene is like a XXX scenario, complete with outrageously stilted performances, that fizzles out, though not always before the incredibly unsexy sex starts; the rest are like a naive child’s idea of Hollywood “sophistication,” pretty people lolling around the Hollywood Hills drinking and smoking and telling one another things like “Do you remember those days? No, probably not, because you’re still living them” and “I’m really sorry I didn’t congratulate you on starting your own PR company” [actual lines of dialog]. It is all too plausible that the idiotically sexist script, which degrades men and women alike, is by Bret Easton Ellis (The Rules of Attraction). But it is not possible that this cheap-looking piece of junk is from a veteran filmmaker, certainly not Paul Schrader (Affliction).

US/Canada release date: Aug 2 2013 (VOD same day) | UK release date: May 9 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated C2-C (contains coincidence and connivance but no cheese)
MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 18 (strong sex, bloody injury)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes
  • RogerBW

    It’s an interesting division: some films are bad and fun to watch, while some films are bad and just tedious. I suspect that to be bad and fun it helps to have aspired to greatness.

  • TXTom

    As much as I respect and enjoy the majority of Mrs Johanson’s film reviews (especially her philosophical and humanistic insights), I think that her criticism of “The Canyons” is a little harsh. All of Ellis’ stories have this detached quality in them which makes them hard for audiences to relate to, especially on screen. They seem “unreal”.

    A constant theme in Ellis’ work is the existential “ennui”, the boredom and emptiness of life, the absence of deeper meaning. His main characters feel that something is missing, but they can’t pinpoint what it is. As an audience, we know what they are missing – connection with themselves and others, and genuine emotion. This is why there is so much disconnect between the protagonists and the viewers.

    It may be that the choice of Hollywood as a backdrop for this display of existential emptiness is an unlucky one because few people can relate to wealthy Hollywood life on a personal level.

    However, I applaud the filmmakers for at least having the guts to try.
    The people in this movie are all choosing materialism over personal connection, and mechanical sex instead of intimacy, an orgasm is for them a reflex just like sneezing. Neither money, sex, nor social status provide happiness for those who get it in abundance; only those who don’t have it in abundance think they will bring happiness.
    A lot of what I find interesting about this movie is “between the lines”, and not displayed openly.
    I’ve seen a lot dumber movies that got a higher rating.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Who is Mrs Johanson?

    It’s clever of a lousy writer to “choose” to write stuff that’s all about a lack of meaning. Just like it’s clever of lousy actors to “choose” to portray empty wooden human beings. Very clever.

    Perhaps this is an “accurate” representation of horrible, soulless people, but why would anyone want to watch that? What did *you* get out of it?

  • TXTom

    Dear Mary Ann,

    Many thanks for your reply. I’m not sure if Bret Easton Ellis should be called a “lousy writer”. He is clearly a product of the 80′s, and at worst, he can be called outdated by today’s standards. While there is a certain nostalgia connected to today’s discussion of 80′s popular culture, I remember it as a thoroughly cynical, materialistic, and narcissistic time. The self-absorption and disconnect of Ellis’ protagonists did reflect the zeitgeist of that time.

    All existentialist authors write about the despair of the individual in an environment devoid of meaning. This doesn’t make Camus’ “Etranger” or Beckett’s “Godot” lousy literature. In my view, Ellis is emulating existentialist literature into the context of today’s popular american culture, and puts it into a marketable framework.
    On the other hand, I am sure there are better backdrops than Hollywood lifestyle.

    I think that the actors Deen and Lohan were picked because they personally live in this state of disconnect. For Deen, sex is nothing than an everyday act to earn money, and for Lohan, celebrity life has lost its exhilaration.
    The tragedy of achieving what one set out to obtain materialistically.

    A director who is really masterful in portraying this existential disconnect is David Cronenberg, some of whose films are perceived as unwatchable by a large number of viewers (Crash, Spider, …).

    I personally like this abstract, detached portrayal of people in an almost laboratory-type setting. It ressembles the approach of a scientist. Put a person into a very clearly defined, abstract environment, and trace his / her path into the abyss. But that’s maybe because I’m working in a science related profession.