The Canyons is a sharply uneven and often uncomfortable take on trust funds, sexual appetites and daddy issues. The film has a deep mistrust, or perhaps even dislike, of its own characters. They experiment, try to advance their own careers, judge anyone and everything and ultimately spin their wheels because they’re too broken or dumb or single-minded to do anything else. This isn’t the Los Angeles you’d read about in a brochure or even the one you’d get in a John Singleton movie. It’s the Hollywood no one is interested in talking about. It’s the girls ready and willing to fuck their way not to stardom but into a house in the hills. It’s the rich twenty-somethings who produce because they have no skills beyond their inheritances, and it’s the endless series of creepy and uncomfortable auditions every wannabe takes. It’s all deeply Bret Easton Ellis-y in all the best and worst ways, and while it doesn’t always work, it certainly has its moments.
Many of those moments start and end with Lindsay Lohan, who gives her best performance in years. Opposite James Deen, who actually has a nice charisma about him, she’s able to waffle between vulnerable and slyly controlling, depending on the mood of her character. There are a handful of scenes that she deftly controls from start to finish. Unfortunately, wonderful as those moments might be, the plot really isn’t the best offering either Ellis or director Paul Schrader have worked with. Not enough grunt work is done to earn the payoff the film is ultimately looking for, and a few of the characters really need to be in a higher percentage of the runtime to offer a greater sense of cohesion and balance. As a story, it’s just the wrong combination of marginal and grandiose to support a great movie, but an above average to pretty decent movie, it can and does shoulder that burden.
That aforementioned shaky plot follows Christian (Deen) and Tara (Lohan). He’s a sexually aggressive twenty-something with deep pockets, and she’s a failed model whose life goal is to be better off than most. Together, they invite singles and couples over for sex and casually fight off the boredom extravagant, unearned wealth so often brings. To pass the time, Tara decides to work on a movie Christian is funding, but when his assistant (Amanda Brooks) winds up dating an actor (Nolan Gerard Funk) that she used to live with, the casual foray into the film business devolves into a mess of insecurities and complicated revenge schemes. It’s graphic and sometimes outlandish.
Apart from the acting performances from the two leads, the film’s best asset is its dialogue. Sharp, biting and often very honest, many of the conversations bristle with authenticity. They never pull any punches, but they also don’t feel as if they’ve been written to intentionally shock. The right stream of words can inflate an ego, tear down a self-esteem, completely change an up and coming actor’s life path or in the best of moments, artfully comment on the Los Angeles culture The Canyons is aimed at. For example: Tara and Christian’s assistant Gina talk about movies over lunch, and the former muses that while many people in Los Angeles claim to love movies, they really don’t sit in a theater and appreciate the movies themselves. They just like being around movies, which is not the same thing.
The Canyons isn’t really a movie for one of those people who like being around movies more than watching movies themselves. It’s way too messy and uncomfortable to be fun or a potential Oscar nominee. It has a nice enough rhythm and pace to it, but there aren't a lot of goofy or redeeming asides or gags that let the viewer crack a few smiles. It's the type of subject matter you would expect to see on IFC late at night, but with an engaged Lohan owning a handful of scenes and a vibe all its own, The Canyons has something to say and should be worth a look to the right crowd.