Liz & Dick is a very peculiar TV movie indeed. The opening seconds flash a ”based on a true story” message across the screen. But the ”story” — that is, the life that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton shared mostly during the 1960s, after meeting while making Cleopatra (1963) — was much richer in reality than it is in this dinky, tin-eared production. Instead, the primary interest in watching Liz & Dick is to behold Lindsay Lohan trying, with varying, wobbly degrees of effort, to make her own career comeback.
Lohan, who has squandered years of promise and talent as a sullen-faced party girl and irregular arrestee, has been cut so many breaks, it’s difficult to root for her anymore. But there’s still a vulnerable quality to her — the same sensitive-soul aspect to her gaze that’s been there since she starred in The Parent Trap (1998) — that keeps one’s hope alive.
There was a chance that she’d connect with Taylor, also a former child star who grew up to be an adult with a tumultuous private life, stalked by paparazzi. But from the moment Lohan and Grant Bowler, as Burton, sit side by side facing the camera in a mock interview about their lives, a wall goes up between the actress and us. Is it years of ducking tabloid photographers that have frozen her face into a blank stare?
When she opens her mouth, Lohan doesn’t speak in the high-register, girlish, faintly British-inflected voice that Taylor was using well into her 20s. Instead, we hear the raspy rattle familiar to anyone who’s seen Lohan on TMZ or in the 2009 theatrical-turned-ABC Family movie Labor Pains. No effort seems to have gone into Lohan’s preparation other than tinting her eyes Liz-violet. Various details don’t ring true: When we’re shown a Taylor upset that she’s put on some pounds (”CLEO-FAT-RA,” screams a tabloid headline), we see that Lohan remains her usual slim self. Vanity or acting choice?
Not that Bowler is much better. Whereas Richard Burton combined a debonair swagger with Welsh workingman burliness, Bowler’s take on him is squishy — his Burton doesn’t so much rumble eloquently as brood self-pityingly.
Writer Christopher Monger and director Lloyd Kramer had the opportunity to create a juicy biopic right up the Lifetime channel’s alley. Liz and Dick — Taylurton, maybe? — were pioneers of celeb coupledom. But Liz & Dick just seesaws back and forth between their true-romance squabbles and drab re-creations of the movies in which they costarred. (The best performance of all here may just be the brief appearance of The Office’s Creed Bratton, playing sputtering studio head Darryl Zanuck.) Taylor and Burton deserved better, and Lohan should have shed her protective shell and stepped up her game. C-