Chuck Ross

Why You’ll Watch Lifetime’s ‘Liz & Dick’ — Though It’s Another Lohan Train Wreck. And the Movie You Really Should Watch Today

Nov 25, 2012

Having watched “Liz & Dick” starring Lindsay Lohan (Lifetime, 9 p.m. ET, premiering tonight, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012), I think Los Angeles Times TV critic Mary McNamara gets it exactly right when she says what really works against this telefim biopic is its script.

As McNamara writes: “It would be easy to blame Lohan, who plays Elizabeth Taylor, for the film’s failure, if only because Lifetime has gone out of its way to market the movie as Lohan’s comeback picture and to play up the similarities between the two women. These are, as far as one can tell, limited to them both having been child actresses and afflicted with addiction issues. Alas, Lohan is not at all convincing as Taylor but in her defense it is difficult to imagine why anyone actually thought she would be.”

And, as McNamara says, the film just “careens through the decades-long relationship between Taylor and Burton with more petulance than passion, knocking down gin bottles and rumpling silk sheets for no better reason than that’s what it says to do in the script.”

McNamara adds, “Unfortunately Lohan and co-star Grant Bowler [as Richard Burton] have about as much sexual chemistry as Kermit and Miss Piggy and none of that couple’s tenderness.”

All of which is true and all of which will not prevent “Liz & Dick” from being a hit in the ratings. Hell, if I hadn’t already seen it, I’d tune in. Unfortunately, it’s just another train wreck in Lohan’s continuing head-shaking journey through life, from which most of us voyeurs cannot avert our eyes.

And the film’s got a tabloid title guaranteed to lure us in: Lindsay Lohan in “Liz & Dick.” What the? Taylor and Burton were show business and celebrity royalty. They were Elizabeth and Richard, not Liz and Dick.

“Liz & Dick’s” screenwriter, Christopher Monger, co-wrote the script for HBO’s 2010 Emmy-winning “Temple Grandin,” which was one of the best biopics in recent years. How could he fall so quickly from that fabulous feature to this felony?

Clearly one mistake was that he needed to concentrate on fewer events in the lives of Taylor and Burton, instead of trying to cram their entire relationship into an hour and a half.

Better your time spent today watching (or DVRing and watching later) a truly seductive and courageous performance by Elizabeth Taylor. Today, in a little while, on TCM at 2:30 p.m. ET, Taylor is in one of her sexiest, most provocative roles: Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

The performance speaks for itself. The courageous part was taking place behind-the-scenes when the movie was being made in 1958. Taylor, 26 (the same age Lohan is today) was two weeks into shooting the film when, tragically, Mike Todd, her third husband, was killed in the crash of a private plane. They had only been married about a year. Taylor was devastated. It’s been written that besides Burton, Todd was the one other love of Taylor’s life.

Richard Brooks, the director of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” talks about what happened in the book “Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute,” edited by George Stevens Jr.

As Brooks recalls in the book:

“Saturday they were going to take [Mike Todd’s] body and Elizabeth to Chicago because they were going to bury him on Sunday. I got a call from Elizabeth’s secretary, who said, “I think you ought to get up here because this girl is hysterical. She’s about to go off the deep end.” So I went up to the house, and … I walked into the bedroom and [Elizabeth] took one look at me and started screaming, “You son of a bitch! I guess you’re here like all the rest of these bastards who have been here all day long! ‘When am I going to go back to work?’ ”

Executives from the studio — including the producers of the movie — had gone to see Taylor “with flowers and doleful voices and all that crap, but what they finally got around to asking each time was ‘So, how soon do you think you’ll be back, honey?’ Well, she saw me and figured it was the same deal. I said, ‘Elizabeth, if you don’t want to come back to this movie, don’t come back. It’s a movie — that’s all it is. If you don’t do it, they’ll start over and find somebody else to do it. If you never want to come back, that’s fine.’ She said, ‘Well, I’m not. I’m never coming back. Fuck you and the movie and everybody else.’ "

For the next three weeks or so, Brooks filmed around her. Finally, Taylor came to the studio to see Brooks. The director continues, “She arrived in a car with the window shades down, and she said, ‘I think I’d like to come back to work.’ I said, ‘It’s up to you.’ ‘I don’t want to see that producer down here. If he comes on, I’m leaving. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to work. Maybe I’ll start and something will happen.’

“The next day she showed up. I think she worked an hour. That day after that, for a couple of hours. By the end of the week she was working four or five hours. Never missed a day and was never late. … So that’s the story. She finished the picture and we finished on time.”

Come January, Scarlett Johansson will play Maggie in a Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

If we’re lucky maybe one day Johannson will appear in a biopic of Taylor that will honor Elizabeth’s celebrity in all its glory, including her acting and her very public private life.

One Comment

  1. The biggest reason that scripts from the same writer were so good for HBO and not for Lifetime is pretty clear — consider the networks for which they were intended. And maybe the reason “Liz & Dick” wasn’t another “Temple Grandin” is because their romance wasn’t exactly the timeless epic love story the movie magazines of the time made it out to be, despite their talents and talent for publicity. I even like them and their whole aura, but a TV event? Not quite.

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