November 26, 2012



Did anyone, anywhere, expect LIZ & DICK to be something other than junk?  Lifetime’s TV-movie, with its stunt casting of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor, was calibrated to get train-wreck eyeballs (it might as well have come with a TMZ tie-in) and it certainly may succeed at that.  There’s some justice to this, since Taylor and Richard Burton were not only among the progenitors of our current celebrity culture but often their own self-parodies (I remember seeing them on stage as the divorcees who couldn’t stop fighting or stay away from each other in Noel Coward’s Private Lives), but they deserved better than this lazy, rote recital of their greatest hits.

Of course, the movie itself, with its saga of scandalous stars, is secondary to the meta story of its own star, which is to say the unveiling of what remains of Lindsay Lohan, playing her first leading role since I Know Who Killed Me in 2007.  By then, the shambles of her life and career were already big news, starting more or less when a furious letter from the producer of her Georgia Rules was leaked to the press, and of course things only got worse after that.  For quite a long time, Lohan received far more benefit of the doubt than the usual run of young clods, because, we were constantly reminded, she had talent.  And it was true that she seemed to be better able than most to make the transition from child star to adult, moving smoothly from Mean Girls to A Prairie Home Companion, where she held her own with the likes of Meryl Streep.  But for now, at least, that Lindsay Lohan is gone.  In Liz & Dick, she doesn’t begin to simulate Taylor’s unique blend of voluptuous earthiness and hauteur.  She barely even goes through the motions of “acting,” without any attempt to sound or behave like the real Taylor (although the creators of her wigs, make-up and costumes do a better job–despite the odd failure to cover Lohan’s freckled shoulders in a few shots–and occasionally she’s lit and posed carefully enough that she resembles a blurry photo of the star).  This is sometimes downright embarrassing, as in the mercifully brief glimpses we get of what’s supposed to be footage from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but even worse is Lohan’s failure to interact with anyone else in the cast, content simply to recite her lines as Lindsay Lohan.

Grant Bowler, as Burton, fares somewhat better.  He doesn’t particularly look like Burton, but he does a reasonable job with the actor’s sonorous voice, and that’s a big part of capturing Burton.  He also at least makes the effort of portraying Burton as a cohesive character.  There are hardly any other characters in Liz & Dick (no one wanted to pay for permission, so none of their movie co-stars are shown), apart from David Hunt, sturdy as Burton’s chiding brother, and Theresa Russell, barely present as Taylor’s mother.

Christopher Monger’s script dutifully sprints through 90 minutes worth of the Taylor/Burton checklist:  initial hostility followed by passionate affair on the set of Cleopatra, eventual battling marriage, Burton’s jealousy over Taylor’s Oscars, Taylor’s worries about gaining weight and getting old (not that Lohan’s body or face ever change), purchases of massive jewelry, Burton’s drinking, etc.  There’s no depth or point of view, no lingering over any mood or emotion–it’s just an illustrated Wikipedia entry.  Lloyd Kramer’s direction is competent, but never successfully hides the project’s limited budget and lack of detail.

Among the ironies of Liz & Dick is that late in their careers, both Taylor and Burton appeared in their own share of crappy TV movies, forgettable paychecks like Malice In Wonderland and North & South for her, and Divorce His/Divorce Hers for both of them.  So while they would probably be insulted by the superficial, bland depictions of themselves here, they wouldn’t have been surprised.  If there was one thing both of them understood, it was showbiz.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."