IT'S TIME TO TALK ABOUT LIZ & DICK.
Do you want the good news first, or the bad? The bad news is that Lifetime’s made-for-television motion picture “event” is a shallow, narrow view of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s famously tempestuous Hollywood romance. It trades historical accuracy for melodrama and reduces the impressive, philanthropic life of Taylor to a clichéd, drag show caricature of hysterically outlandish proportions.
For the good news, refer to the bad.
Absurd as it may be, Liz & Dick blazes across the HD flatscreen with headless ambition, rendering itself an instant cult classic that is altogether comedic and thusly, not to be missed. Frothy telefilm director Lloyd Kramer treats his leading actors—Lindsay Lohan in the role of Taylor and Grant Bowler as Burton—as a silver screen refraction of two previous subjects, the characters of David & Lisa from his 1998 TV movie of that name, starring Lukas Haas and the late Brittany Murphy, in the roles of two mentally unstable patients finding romance in the psychiatric ward. As Burton, Bowler (most recently known for his quizzical turn as Henry Rearden in a right-wing card-store production of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) emits an exaggerated Welshness that somehow misses Burton’s mark, lacking the late actor’s charisma and presence, but nevertheless projecting a sense of his bravado—it’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet by way of the original Melrose Place.
As Taylor, Lohan is—for better or worse—purely electrifying, delivering the schmaltzy dialogue written for her with a level of camp and blind conviction that is equal parts shocking, sentimental, comic, and…well…cunty. Much will be made in trade reviews of Lohan’s failure to embody the essence of the inimitable Elizabeth Taylor—if only because critics and audiences relish any and every reason to skewer the tabloid fixture as punishment for what they perceive as her repeated misdeeds in her personal life. But let it be said, at least by this reviewer, that Lohan’s interpretation of Taylor’s razor-sharp wit, alcoholism, and titanic emotional tides commands its own level of appreciation. For every moment that she graces—or collapses across—the screen, Lohan is nothing short of magnetic. Regardless of the production’s innate quality (or lack thereof), its leading lady manages to thrust herself headlong into the part, proving at the very least that she can still deliver the drama where it counts.
Sure, there is no consideration for things like time (at one point, Lohan’s voiceover educates us to the fact that Taylor and Richard had magically made over forty films together between one scene and the next), details (their children are rarely shown, and in one scene when they finally appear Taylor bellows “I’m BORED! I’m SO BORED!”), and sense (see the director’s chair interview motif that punctuates the action like interview asides in reality television), but these usual concerns come to be seen as beside the point. This is the golden example of what drinking games were made for. And besides: it’s a Lifetime movie. What exactly did you expect?
Liz & Dick airs November 25 on Lifetime.