Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Canyons (2013): Aging Out

The Canyons (2013)
dir: Paul Schrader

There's a fleeting moment in the opening scene in The Canyons where you suspect that it is going to be a zesty ironic takedown of youth culture and sexuality. This scene has Christian (James Deen) showing Tara (Lindsay Lohan) hookup profiles on some hookup app, while talking to Gina (Amanda Brooks) and Ryan (Nolan Funk) about Ryan's normative sexuality. Gina is Christian's assistant, and Ryan is the actor in Christian's current film project that nobody cares about.

If this scene was truly witty, Christian would have been checking out Ryan's profile on the hookup app, even as Ryan was pronouncing his true faith to Gina, with whom he barely has a connection. But, this is latter year Bret Easton Ellis, and this moment is passed up for a dull examination of boredom and the death of the...multiplex?

The Canyons credits overlays a bunch of still images which show movie houses and multiplexes in various states of decrepitude. Schrader and Ellis are mourning the death of the cinema, in some way, shape or form. But, what they're saying about the death of film is barely hinted at in the subtext. At one point during a conversation, Ellis stops the movie cold to ask "Do you still go to the movies?" He seems to be pointing to a culture where film is seen as a product rather than an art form, and the dull-as-dishwater drama that happens behind the scenes is probably more important than what actually ends up on the screen.

Hell, the behind-the-screen story of The Canyons makes this movie the pomo case study for that exercise itself. With Bret Easton Ellis' fawning over James Deen's cock, the Kickstarter-style non-personal-responsibility funding, the hiring of tabloid darling Lindsay Lohan, Paul Schrader doing his first movie in 5 years, and just a lot of hullabaloo including articles in the New York Times, the behind-the-scenes of The Canyons became more substantial and salacious than the actual movie itself.

The movie itself is mainly our five characters, including the actress cum yoga instructor/fuck buddy Cynthia, having romantic interludes and fits of jealousy over the course of three days. They're all shallow jaded shells of characters, even for Bret Easton Ellis. Which would be fine or something, except they're all written as late 30/early-40 something jaded characters. These characters are empty before their age, even for LA.

Bret Easton Ellis is generally well known for writing for characters his own age. But, with Ellis pushing 50, and Schrader pushing 70, writing for characters half his age is unnatural at best. These characters are mid-30s, at least, and the oldest actor is 32. Though, Lohan does look like she's in her mid-30s at the tender age of 27, this emptiness doesn't befit her.

Why should you care? You shouldn't. Ellis isn't at the top of his game here, merely proving his own facile thesis that that the back story was more interesting than the film. Maybe he's meditating on the how the goal of money has superseded even the goal of fame or love. But, I think he's still in the famewhore business, so he may not even believe that himself.

The Canyons isn't a self-contained film. The film content barely even matters. Sure Lindsay Lohan and James Deen have a stupid foursome in the middle of the film, where it doesn't even look like anybody is doing anything. But, who cares? Nobody does. Least of all Ellis, and least of all the audience. A 99 minute film that feels like its 130 minutes of nothingness isn't a success.

But, as an experiment about the world, it's a success. People cared about The Canyons for one brief year, before it disappears into the deep archives of Paul Schrader failures and Bret Easton Ellis failures, simply because of the backstory. And, that's interesting. In a way.

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