March 4th, 2015
Sometimes Bad Is Just Bad
By Chez Pazienza: I’ll make this quick because it’s Friday and I’m ready to pretend that I don’t still have a pile of work on my desk that isn’t going to get done by the magical work fairies I bought online and am now trying to grow on the back of my toilet.
Sure, this is a tall order, but can we finally dispense with the notion that a lot of things in this world are so bad they’re good?
I had a minor debate with my girlfriend about this the other day because we both watched the trailer for the new Bret Easton Ellis-Paul Schrader collaboration The Canyons. In case you’re mercifully unaware of this thing, it stars Lindsay Lohan and features what I think is the mainstream movie debut of inexplicably popular porn star James Deen (not to be confused with Paula’s son Jamie Deen, who I don’t believe has ever even contemplated a career in straight porn). It’s a small-budget film — it’s got Lohan in a starring role, how can it not be? — and the new trailer for it purposely goes for this kitchy, 50s Hollywood melodrama vibe, complete with huge-font lettering that sweeps out at you, screaming lines like, “Tara knew she was being used for something EVIL!”; this follows the movie’s last trailer, which adopted a more 60s grindhouse look. The bottom line is that The Canyons is pretty much made to be awful: the acting is purposely over-the-top, the audio quality sucks and the whole thing looks like it was shot as a telenovela.
Now anybody who knows me knows that I’ve been a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis dating back decades. There’s something about the pitch-black humor in his nihilism that does it for me and, what’s more, I know he’s capable of working far beyond his usual stock-in-trade. The last several pages of the deceptively poignant Lunar Park showed him to have an ability as a writer that I hadn’t until that point thought possible. Hell, I even paid homage to the debut that launched his stardom, Less Than Zero, via a few subtle and not so subtle references in my own book, Dead Star Twilight. But lately Ellis has done nothing but coast. Imperial Bedrooms was fucking terrible and he seems to spend most of his time now offering up silly pop culture observations on Twitter. Granted, he used his overworked feed to assail Lohan for supposedly ditching on work, but his apparent shock at one of the country’s most notorious fuck-ups behaving like one of the country’s most notorious fuck-ups was almost comical.
Schrader, well he’s a legend, although one who has occasionally made odd creative choices throughout his lengthy career, which is the only explanation I can come up with for why he’d do a movie with a dopey porn star and an even dopier C-list pain-in-the-ass. It’s that or the onset of senility.
Anyway, my girlfriend got positively giddy at the prospect of seeing this movie. Given that she’s incredibly bright and a USC screenwriting graduate, it’s certainly not because she expects it to be good. On the contrary, she knows it’s gonna be relentlessly stupid; the trailers even play this fact up as a selling point.
And that’s the problem.
The age of hipster irony has created a cottage industry out of prefabricating so-bad-it’s-good entertainment. I have no doubt that that’s the niche that The Canyons is trying to violently force itself into. If that’s the case, there’s a pretty damn good chance it’s not going to work because, strangely, to be successful, even irony needs to be, dare I say it, sincere. The reason, say, a movie like The Toxic Avenger succeeds in being great even though it’s a terrible movie is that it never takes itself too seriously. There’s no air of aloof detachment; it’s just a fun, dumb movie. Likewise, the reason a movie like the now-legendary The Room works as a great bad movie is that it was never intended to be a bad movie; the director, as delusional as he apparently is, was completely sincere in wanting to make a masterpiece to rival Citizen Kane, and it’s that folly that’s just so damn impossible to resist. There’s something oddly, well, sweet about how utterly he failed.
The Canyons looks like everything else our entertainment complex churns out in the age of purposely shameless reality TV and pretentious meta-parody: a product. And a really bad one. A movie that’s not “so bad it’s good” but one that’s just plain fucking bad.
All that said, I’ll probably wind up seeing the thing. My girlfriend wants to see it and she’s pretty persuasive.