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Movie Review: Liz & Dick

November 27, 2012
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Not quite the cinematic event of the year that Lifetime proclaims, Liz & Dick, if nothing else, reinforces my idea that Brian Cox, Brian Dennehy, and Rip Torn stuffed in a room with only their gruff and eight quarts of Yukon Jack for an hour and a half would make a terrific movie.

Of course, none of those actors appear in Liz & Dick, but Grant Bowler’s portrayal of Richard Burton boozing all over the place made me wonder if Ray Winstone as Oliver Reed, Michael Fassbender as Peter O’Toole, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard Harris would show up to toss back a few. At least have Winstone call Taylor “Big Tits.”

But Liz & Dick keeps to its two leads. Bowler as Burton and Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor, which wouldn’t be bad were it not for the rambling script. The first half, detailing Burton’s tireless efforts to bed Taylor on the set of Cleopatra has some drive, thanks mostly to Bowler’s performance. He has all the ego, anger, and presence of Burton and delivers each line as though every word were chosen with utter precision and said with total conviction. He’s a pleasure to watch, but even he can’t save the second act, where the film hits all the beats of history but lacks any sort of focus or narrative.

The thread that purports to tie it together is a mock interview featuring the two discussing their relationship. It doesn’t add much save as a cheap device to move from one episode to the next. The film proper begins on the set of Cleopatra then lists through the rest of the ’60s before ending somewhere in a hospital, and then with Burton’s death.

Is there a point? Is there a parable buried within the endless scenes of drinking and smoking and lovers’ spats? Is now the time for an expose of 50-year-old tabloids?

Not really. They get together. They break up. They drink in Italy. They drink in Monaco. They drink on a boat. They drink in a car. Burton gives up drinking for a while then starts again when his brother dies. There’s no message of alcoholism or really a resonance to his brother’s death; it just happened, so they include it. Same for the breakdown of Burton’s marriage to Sybil or Taylor’s to Eddie Fisher (which, granted, does have a good moment where Burton confronts Taylor in front of Eddie). If there is a message, it’s that these two superstars apparently liked to drink and screw. Not much of a revelation, and even their revelry is flat. Drinking and screwing are two of the three best things in life (smoking and eating a big sandwich are tied for third), yet for all their struggles to get to that state, they seem pretty miserable performing the acts.

As for Lohan, she looks like she herself has been indulging in life’s third pleasures. As my significant other noted, “She looks puffy — not fat, but, just puffy.” Well put. And her voice sounds like Mrs. Coy, who used to run the local comic shop with her husband and once offered my friend a slice of cake, “It’s Batman,” she added.

I like Lohan, but she doesn’t have the air of sophistication or fire of Taylor. Instead she seems defeated, and while her own personal problems probably got her the role, it’s not particularly inspired casting.

The sets are nice and exotic (though I think they use the same establishing shot for Italy and Monaco), and the film’s look is overall great. Likewise, the sudden appearance of Creed Bratton is a shock, and I always like to see Brian Howe (which reminds me to scold you readers into checking out The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra), but the delights of this muddle are, ultimately, few.

Rating: 2/5

Liz & Dick is playing again on Lifetime, Saturday, December 1, at 8/7 Central. Directed by Lloyd Kramer. Written by Christopher Monger. Starring Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler, Theresa Russell, David Hunt, Bruce Nozick, Tanya Franks, Andy Hirsch, Charles Shaughnessy, David Eigenberg, Creed Bratton, Brian Howe, and Henry Hereford.

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