Two couples sit across from one another in a swank L.A. restaurant talking the talk. Only the males seem in a battle of experience and one-upmanship. Ryan (Nolan Funk) has been cast in a low budget film financed by Christian (James Deen). Christian lords above Ryan, and in fact everyone around him. In particular Christian brags about his sexual prowess and swinging with his girlfriend, which consists of Christian iPhone filming his g.f. Tara (Lindsay Lohan) having sex with strangers of all sexes he recruits through the internet.
Tara and Ryan it turns out had been an item previously and Ryan’s now g.f. Gina (Amanda Brooks) is Christian’s assistant on the movie. A series of promiscuous incidents later Christian is bent out of shape with jealousy and engages in blackmail, hiring people to follow other people and eventually murder. The Canyons wants to wallow in a kind of sleazy underbelly of sun-drenched Southern California and succeeds as far as the atmosphere and locations. Filmed on an extreme low budget the film boasts emotionally tinged performances with intense direction (Paul Schrader) and writing (Bret Easton Ellis).
A lot of ink has been spilled talking about this movie’s titillation factor and while yes there are some bold, provocative sex scenes the gist really focuses on the characters trying to hold onto their piece of an imaginary pie. In fact the one big orgy scene is edited with frenzy that suggest that nobody, other than the audience, is really getting off.
None of these people are famous but they live with a sense of glamour on the edge of a new Hollywood; the film filled with images of crumbling movie theaters used as bookends. None of these characters (except Christian) are rich yet they display elegant desires. Lohan in particular plays her role to the hilt, sometimes with baked-on make-up and other times stripped of make-up, clothes and humility. Her dinner conversation at the end reveals a vulnerable person who has traded her silence (for all of her previous actions) for a life of comfort. Deen (an adult film actor) performs with a cool persona, playing his role with a mute stoicism. Deen bears a physical resemblance to actor James Franco, and believe me if this part had been played with similar un-emotion by an actor like Franco or Gosling the praise would be loud.
Schrader uses a repeating motif of people walking up and down stairs. So we have Lohan descending the stairs in lingerie about to work her tragic magic on Deen, or we see Deen naked and flaccid leading another naked couple up the same stairs to the bedroom where Lohan awaits, and another sequence depicts Ryan walking down the stairs on the second floor of Amoeba Records (a fixture in Hollywood right next to the Arclight Theater) and then down the stairs that lead from the store’s first floor to its underground parking area. The Canyons is a place where people travel nowhere fast. The Canyons opens theatrically August 2 in New York City and via VOD (video on demand) everywhere else.
- Michael Bergeron