Putting a brown wig on Lindsay Lohan and calling her Elizabeth “Liz” Taylor is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. And it would be easy to blame her for the ill-conceived, and shoddily constructed, made for TV mess Liz & Dick. But this “biopic” is plagued with problems other than the once overblown and now non-existent talent of its leading lady. Liz & Dick fails on multiple fronts: poorly-written dialogue, zero character development and a fractured plot to name a few. Should viewers expect more from a Lifetime creation? This is the network known for its melodramatic programming.
There’s nothing remotely reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor in Lindsay Lohan, even in full make-up. Taylor was poised and polished and unquestionably one of the most beautiful women in the world. Lohan’s Taylor has a face puffy from Restylane injections, her freckles are heavily spackled with concealer and her red locks are tucked into poorly-groomed wigs. It’s not just the looks that Lohan lacks. Taylor was strong but could play vulnerable. She had an innate sexuality and could be blatantly seductive or more demure depending on the role she was playing. Lohan simply comes across as trashy.
Physically, Taylor was voluptuous, and she grew more zaftig as she aged. Burton commented on her weight gain as did the press, but Lohan’s lean frame never appears to change as her character matures. The real Taylor even gained over 20 pounds for her role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? . There was no evidence of this or the other dramatic transformations she made for her Oscar-winning role in the brief re-enactment of one the film’s scenes in Liz & Dick. Even though the couple’s rocky romance spanned a quarter of a century, not a line is added to her face. The only thing that alters Lohan’s appearance is a variety of bad wigs and tackier outfits.
There had to be more to Elizabeth Taylor than this chain-smoking, heavy drinking and tantrum throwing version. Taylor was a woman who loved and warmly accepted her homosexual co-stars such as Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson. Taylor also managed to give an Oscar nominated performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof even though one of the great loves of her life, Mike Todd, died tragically during filming. She suffered from scoliosis as a child and survived a nearly fatal bout of pneumonia. There was so much depth to this icon, yet in this film she rolls around half naked in hotel suites, lounges on a private yacht and travels to exotic locations occasionally with some random children in tow.
Grant Bowler, from New Zealand, has the advantage of being an unknown. Who knows if he can actually act since he’s weighed down by horrible dialogue, poor direction and Lohan. There’s no inkling of the real Richard “Dick” Burton’s talent, making it hard to believe the man was considered to be one of the greatest stage and film actors of his generation. Bowler comes off as petty, jealous, desperate, insecure and egotistical. This small-screen incarnation of Burton resents Taylor’s success, in particular her two Academy Awards, even though Burton was nominated for seven Academy Awards along with three British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations and one statue for his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He was also nominated for three Tony Awards. He did most of his best film work while involved with Taylor.
The movie makes it seem as if all of Taylor’s career choices were made so she that could act as a hall monitor, making sure that the philandering Richard Burton didn’t dip his wick into another actress. Liz & Dick didn’t show Burton calling directors and demanding roles and taking salary cuts so they wouldn’t have to be separated by work. She must have called in many favors, bullied and threatened producers and utilized her clout in the industry to insure that they made a total of 11 films together. Then again, their antics off set were sure to have guaranteed modest box office receipts, if not more, depending on the project.
Liz & Dick focuses a great deal on the amount of press that Taylor and Burton received due to their blatant affair during the filming of Cleopatra. They were married with children at the time. This is where having a tabloid darling like Lohan blurs the lines between the character she is portraying and her own personal life. It’s hard to express how Burton and Taylor’s relationship was followed by the press and the public. Most stars’ publicity was carefully controlled by studio publicists. The toll this must have taken on the relationship and how it affected both Burton and Taylor’s public personas was touched upon briefly. But it’s hard to imagine when the actress playing the title character is a tabloid darling. Lohan’s personal life overshadows Taylor’s, which is not ideal.
It isn’t just the acting that makes Liz & Dick no better than the worst daytime soap. All of the visual elements of the movies; art direction, cinematography and set design would be completely unsalvageable if it weren’t for some lovely shots of “foreign locations”. There are times when the backdrop is as believable as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of Make-Believe. What was supposed to be a tribute to one of Hollywood’s most famous (and infamous) couples is just one of Lohan’s latest tribulations.
The special features consist of interviews with Lohan and Bowler as well as the director, writer, executive producer and costume designer.