Most of the time we talk about Lindsay Lohan, it's about how she's failed somehow. She fails to show up to court. She's turned away from a luxury hotel. She's at the center of a messy, incredibly fascinating film shoot, one that has her starring opposite a porn star who is actually the centered, humble, low-key one.

So when we see her show in public, we probably expect her to be a mess, or to match some of the many unflattering paparazzi photos, or to get in a screaming match with somebody. Which makes last night's rough, emotional appearance on Late Show with David Letterman so bracing, uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding. Letterman goes for the jugular on a lot of questions, pressing Lohan about her upcoming rehab stint, her shoplifting habits, her addictions and her rough reputation. And Lohan deals with it with as much poise as you can possibly imagine, accusing Letterman of sounding like Dr. Phil, dancing around the questions about her specific addictions, and reminding Letterman that she's there to talk about a movie (Scary Movie 5, as if it matters). She makes jokes aimed toward the audience-- "I don't know, I'll have to find out in rehab." At one point she tells Letterman what he is and isn't allowed to ask, and jokes "No, this is my show now."

At the end, the ever-tough Letterman relents for a moment and praises Lohan for what is genuinely a brave TV appearance: "You have enough spine, enough sense of yourself, enough poise to come out here and talk to me." That moment of genuine praise makes Lohan tear up, and honestly, it made me tear up a little too. Lohan has been a punching bag for more than half of her career, and she knows it, and she shows the scars. But when she goes on Letterman, looking as good as she has in years and taking a lot of mean-spirited jokes with incredible grace, you have to admire her all over again for surviving at all. Who knows if her promises that she's done with her wild years are true-- in the past, they haven't been. I'm just rooting for her harder than ever-- and as harsh as Letterman might have been, he made that happen.

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