A look back at the rise and fall of Lindsay Lohan on the big screen, and the role the press played in pulling her down.
The celebrity world is having a reckoning. A reckoning that’s 15 years too late, but a reckoning nonetheless.
In recent months, following the first and second wave of #MeToo allegations, the world is starting to look past not just who were the abusers, but who were abused, and not just in the obvious ways. Through collective nostalgia for a pre-social media time, a celebration of the 90s throughout fashion and culture, and insightful documentaries like Framing Britney Spears and Kid 90, we’re being asked as a society to reframe our understanding of how young women have been presented to us by the media for the last two decades. That, and how we may have failed them in more ways than one.
When I think of the young women who filled my screens as I was a teen, none shone brighter than Lindsay Lohan.
A beacon for child success, she was hailed as the new Shirley Temple, the future Julia Roberts. In 2004 she was the star of a comedy that grossed $86 million domestically, released her debut album, and won four Teen Choice Awards. Just four years later she won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress and industry insiders cited she would struggle to find work following onset rumours, two DUIs and other hospitalisations.
Lohan was labelled a problem child, a bad influence, a tragedy waiting to happen. In the decade since she has been ridiculed, meme-ified and become the inspiration for reality TV shows, all whilst attempting more than one come back. Reflecting now, was Lindsay ever the problem, or was it our understanding of her life and what we were being shown?
Arriving on the scene in a remake of the Disney classic The Parent Trap, Lohan played the dual roles of twin sisters Annie and Hallie. Convincingly portraying both parts, with contrasting accents and an identity swap within the film, she entered the public consciousness and Disney snapped her up for a three picture deal: Life Size and Get A Clue followed shortly after though not making the same impact as The Parent Trap.
Lohan stayed loyal to Disney, returning for another remake, this time Freaky Friday starring Jamie Lee Curtis. It was a success all around with Lohan and Curtis sharing excellent screen chemistry and it pushed Lohan into a new pack of ‘Teen Queens’ with similar stars Hilary Duff and the Olsen Twins. What happened next was unexpected, and cemented Lohan’s name in Hollywood. She signed on as the lead in Tina Fey’s new film Mean Girls.
Originally wanting to play infamous villain Regina George, Lohan auditioned for the role with director Mark Waters claiming she was ‘exactly what I knew I needed for Regina George’, But due to the success of Lohan’s previous Disney work, Paramount asked for her to play the lead Cady Heron, a more likeable character that fit more in line with her public image. It’s hard to imagine Lohan in the role that Rachel McAdams excelled in, but this marked the beginning of a tug of war between the image Lohan wanted to portray and the role Hollywood insiders wanted her to fit.
After the success of Mean Girls, Lohan signed on to her fifth Disney film Herbie: Fully Loaded (Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen releasing between Freaky Friday and Mean Girls) whilst at the same time recording her first studio album. It was during the production of Herbie that the duality of the Lohan seen on screen and the one seen out in Hollywood started to come to light. Desperate to break her teen queen mould, Herbie was an older role of a recent college graduate, but still, the film aimed at a younger target audience. Her music however portrayed the more mature and aggressive side of Lohan’s personality. One that worked for fans, but didn’t mesh with her squeaky clean good girl cinematic image.
Lohan struggled to hit the heights of success she met with Mean Girls, Herbie: Fully Loaded marking the start of disappointing box office returns along with rom-com Just My Luck. Becoming frequent tabloid fodder whilst also a celeb household name with appearances on Saturday Night Live and hosting awards shows, Lohan started to take more off-beat roles with high calibre cast and crew.
Taking non-lead roles in smaller films with the likes of Robert Altman, Meryl Streep, Emilio Estevez and Jared Leto, Lohan’s ability to see and choose talent to work with was never in any doubt and her career choices when examined in this manner are only to be applauded. Unfortunately, in taking these smaller roles her acting work took a backseat in the media-fuelled narrative of her life. Her notoriety became not for her charismatic on-screen presence but instead for a frequent parade of paparazzi images and scandalous rumours on the various celeb gossip forums and blogs.
That is until she set foot on the set of Georgia Rule and the two worlds collided.
This was a film directed by Garry Marshall (The Princess Diaries, Pretty Woman). It starred two time Academy Award winner Jane Fonda, along with Felicity Huffman fresh off of her 2005 Best Actress nomination. On paper, it was the perfect production for Lohan to move towards more adult roles, and in the hands of Marshall potentially follow the success of Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway before her.
Unfortunately due to various rumoured production and personal issues, Lohan failed to show up to set. More than once. In a now-infamous letter sent from the CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, James G. Robinson called her out for ‘ongoing all-night heavy partying’ stating she had ‘acted like a spoiled child’ and ‘endangered the quality of this picture.’
Not only is the letter a scathing portrayal of Lohan as a professional, but it was also leaked to the press and became public knowledge. When the film was eventually released it met mediocre reviews, and though many cited the screenplay as the issue, with Fonda and Huffman both praising Lohan’s performance, it became the albatross around her neck and still mars her career and body of work today. It’s unfortunate as Georgia Rule perhaps gives Lohan the most room as an actor, portraying a petulant daughter who may or may not have been the victim of abuse. She’s able to explore far more than in previous films and holds her own against the powerhouse actresses she shared the screen with. But combining the poor box office and letter, Lohan was marked as a troublemaker within the industry and an unbankable star.
Lohan’s biggest movie after this was I Know Who Killed Me. Starring as both Aubrey Fleming and Dakota Moss, the film winks at Lohan’s first role in The Parent Trap as twins, with the plot questioning if her character is one girl with multiple personalities, someone hiding a secret, or two identical girls. Unfortunately, the film was marked a mess from start to finish. A first-time screenwriter (I Know Who Killed Me is Jeff Hammonds’ only credit) and a relatively new director with a minimal budget, Lohan worked on the film whilst in rehab, moving from the facility to set daily.
Due to this, paparazzi descended on the filming locations and are rumoured to be seen in various shots throughout the film. Billed as a darker, edgier role for Lohan, it sees her play a stripper as well as dealing with scenes of violence and torture. A week before the film’s release Lohan was arrested for a second DUI and returned to rehab, dropping all promotional appearances for the release of the film. It received an F rating from the CinemaScore system, and is to this day used as the example of the end of her career, earning her multiple Razzie nominations. The film is flawed, but little of this is down to Lohan’s performance or involvement. Instead, a confusing plot and poor marketing sold the film as something it was not. Director Chris Sivertson has spoken in the last few years of a reclamation of the film by horror fans and it’s seen a modest revival as a midnight special film at arthouse cinemas.
Lohan has tried to revive her career a number of times since, with her biggest successes being via the small screen. A recurring role in Ugly Betty saw her acting against America Ferrera and giving us her best Regina George. A decent performance in the show, her time on the set was unfortunately marred by controversy with rumours of fights being published in tabloids and a shortening of her character’s run. Stars of Ugly Betty quashed the rumours and praised her work ethic, but the press had soured on Lohan.
A lead role in rom-com Labor Pains should have been an upturn for Lindsay. It sees her as Thea, a young woman who traps herself in a web of lies after pretending to be pregnant in order to avoid being fired. It saw her reunite with Herbie co-star Cheryl Hines and reminded viewers of her charisma and comedic chops. Cast and crew alike praised her work ethic following her previous issues and her performance in the film was also praised. Unfortunately, after production wrapped, the company announced it would no longer receive a theatrical release in the States, going straight to broadcast network ABC Family. It achieved a high number of viewers during it’s air on the channel, but was widely missed by many audiences and signalled that Lohan could no longer open a theatrical release based on her star power. It’s possibly Lohan’s strongest performance in an adult role and showcases her strengths that we saw in her younger performances. But with her name tarnished, pretty much no one was listening.
What followed next was a series of cameos, short films and TV shows, including the made for TV movie Liz & Dick. Lohan only has two lead role feature film credits to her name since 2009, The Canyons and Among The Shadows.
The Canyons seemed promising on paper. Directed by Paul Schrader (American Gigolo) and written by Bret Easton Ellis (who penned, of course, the American Psycho novel) it was Lohan’s second attempt at an erotic thriller but became almost as big a mess as I Know Who Killed Me. Not originally considered for the main role, when sent the script for a smaller part Lohan’s manager said she wanted to be considered for the lead. She was then cast against James Deen, who at the time had only acted in pornography.
After filming there were many clashes behind the scenes between Schrader, Ellis and the film’s producer Braxton Pope over the edit and pacing of the film, with Stephen Soderbergh even stepping in at one point with an offer to edit it. Schrader rejected this. On completion the film was rejected by both Sundance and SXSW film festivals. Schrader accused Lohan of not supporting the film as she did very little promotion on it’s release, citing that attending events like the Venice Film Festival would put her sobriety in a dangerous position.
In 2013 Schrader wrote an article on the experience of working with Lohan, likening it to the frenzy of working with Marilyn Monroe in the height of her career: ‘tantrums, absences, neediness … that thing you can’t take your eyes off of, that magic, that mystery.’ He paints a picture of chaos, lack of control and talks about the vapidness of celebrity, but also the lack of protection this leads an actor like Lohan to face in the modern internet age.
Overall the piece is positive, singing the praises of her natural charisma and talent. The magazine’s cover? ‘Trouble Every Day. Lindsay Lohan in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons‘.
The press had struck again. In a podcast episode released by Ellis in 2016, he spoke with Schrader about the experience of the film, and whilst they discuss Lohan’s drinking and behaviour on set, they cite that the majority of negative press levied at the film was based on the phenomenon and not the film. That much of the criticism was about Lohan personally, not her performance in the film or the film as a whole.
Among The Shadows is a 2019 low budget horror release centred around a private investigator descended from a long line of werewolves who crosses paths with Lohan’s character. In this case, she plays the wife of the European Federation President. Thus we have political intrigue, conspiracy, werewolves and they throw some vampires in there for good measure. I’ve seen the film, only down to Lohan’s involvement and despite her face being plastered on every poster, she only plays a small role in it. Though her name appears to be mud in many Hollywood circles, it appears she can still bring in some crowds… well, me.
It’s hard not to wonder about the career trajectory Lohan could have had. Many compare her to Mean Girls co-stars Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried when looking at her stilted career, but perhaps the best comparison is a young Anne Hathaway. Both young women came out of the Disney system, going on to work with high profile directors and taking on smaller roles in indie hits.
Hathaway’s role in Brokeback Mountain in 2005 shortly followed by comedy The Devil Wears Prada in 2006 sealed her fate as an A-list star, whilst Lohan at the same time was working on Bobby and Just My Luck. Hathaway is equally no stranger to a box office misfire, but the key difference? The failure of a Hathaway starring production was never blamed on Hathaway.
Due to a more shielded relationship with the press and paparazzi, Hathaway was able to move through Hollywood, progressing on to becoming a highly regarded adult star. Though, being the late 2000s even she had her fair share of issues, with a media narrative formed around her ‘fake sweetness’.
The misogyny of press and celebrity culture at the time almost cost both women their careers, and whilst Hathaway made it through, it’s high time we stop blaming the victim and take a look at the destruction of Lohan’s career at the hands of the press. Plus, given her work and her films a bit more of the credit they deserve.
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