The Canyons

Nod for me
★★★
☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
Paul Schrader
Starring: 
Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Gerard Funk, Amanda Brooks
The Setup: 
Life among L.A.'s Hollywood sociopath set
Discussion: 

This movie is more notable for the story of its creation than its content. Written by Bret Easton Ellis of American Psycho and Less Than Zero fame, it is directed by Paul Schrader on a budget said to be only $250,000. It stars Lindsay Lohan, no introduction needed, and James Deen, porn star. The main goal here seems to be proving that one can make a movie on such a low budget, a feat accomplished handily, while the secondary goal of producing a movie someone might get something from watching is also accomplished, although coming off as very much a secondary goal.

The credits play as we see photographs of closed movie theaters and multiplexes. As this movie is playing in a few urban markets, it is available everywhere on demand, so the closed theaters are somewhat of a comment on this, and the changing state of the movie industry that increasingly has little use for such small films. We meet Christian, played by porn star James Deen, his girlfriend Tara, played by Lohan, as they meet with young blond actor Ryan and his girlfriend Gina. Ryan has just been cast in the low-budget slasher film Deen is financing, a bit of luck he owes largely to Tara. Christian is an arrogant prick, and makes it clear that he and Tara enjoy three-ways, and that he records home porn films on his cellphone. That one can make films on one's cellphone is also a meta topic here. When Tara protests about airing their private lives, Christian responds "No one has a private life anymore." Everyone is a bit put off by what a dick Christian is. Soon after he and Tara return home, a third male drops by for sex.

The next day--announced by a title over another closed theater--Tara meets Ryan, and we learn that they had been together three years prior, and enjoyed true love, until Tara dumped him because she could see he wasn't going anywhere. She tells him that's it, they can't see each other anymore, then they sleep together. Christian has followed her and sees. Meanwhile, Christian goes over to see what turns out to be a fifth character, Cynthia, although she looks so much like Gina I made it through the entire scene thinking it was her. Christian wants to screw Cynthia but won't kiss her, and she unequivocally orders him out of her apartment. The smugness Deen is able to bring to this scene, even as he's being ordered out, goes far to establish him as a bit dangerous. Meanwhile, Gina is lunching with Tara--which is when you finally figure out it wasn't her sleeping with Christian--and calls Christian afterward to report what she learned, which is nothing. But we see that Christian engineered the whole thing to spy on Tara.

SPOILERS > > >
Since Christian knows of the affair, he goes to the producer of the film, a gay man, and insists that he force the straight Ryan to agree to sex with him or he'll lose the part. When he does, Ryan whips it out and says "Okay, suck it right now," which the producer readily agrees to. Meanwhile, Tara receives mysterious texts, right on her TV, for some reason, asking to meet with her because she might be in danger. The women in question turns out to be Cynthia, who tells her that she used to be dating Christain, until he drugged her, made her engage in a gangbang, and threatened to release the video if she ever told. At home, Tara confronts Christian, who denies everything. Meanwhile, Christian has switched his cell with Tara's, and is rifling through it for information. One of the most unbelievable conceits of the film is that Tara, who virtually lives on her cellphone, wouldn't even notice for a full day that the phone isn't hers (she and Christian have the same wallpaper and everything?). Another ludicrous conceit is that all of these people have Windows phones, as though any sentient being would have a Windows phone.

Well, guess what? Turns out Ryan hired Cynthia to tell the gangbang story to Tara. So there's two that can play at that game, only the revelation doesn't provide the spark of intrigue one would think it could. Probably because you're still just trying to piece the story together and what any of them hope to gain by all these shenanigans. Then Christian's hacker friend alters Ryan's Facebook page (No!) and empties his bank account. Christian also has goons following Ryan. We see Christian in therapy--his therapist is played by Gus Van Sant--where we learn that he is required to come to therapy, or he will lose his trust fund. He also has to be working, but says that telling his father he's working on a movie is enough to satisfy questions about his work ethic.

Well, you knew there had to be some murder in here, right? Christian goes over and kills Cynthia. Yeah, kind of just like that. There is one line about how he’s going to set it up so that it looks like Ryan did it, but that goes nowhere. And I personally didn’t know this, but L.A. apparently has no police force. Christian goes home, and Tara is about to move out, but she stayed because she wanted Christian’s okay about the whole thing. Gee, kind of defeats the whole point of storming out? I don’t know. Anyway, she soon wishes she had just gone, as Christian says that he needs her as an alibi… that she has to say she was with him all day, and tells her “Nod for me” to show she agrees. Tara also has the option of calling the police the second after she leaves, oh but that’s right—L.A. HAS no police. We end with a coda, a few years later. In which another woman claims to be now dating Christian, and asks Tara a bunch of questions, then goes to the bathroom to call someone and report, but wait: the person she’s calling is Ryan, who is now doing the same tactics as Christina once was! Can you BELIEVE it!?!? And that’s the devastating ending that will leave you reeling. Please reel. Thank you.
< < < SPOILERS END

So it was underwritten and murky and a bit juvenile and desperately reaching to be hard-hitting, none of which is to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I thought Lohan was actually good (although my friend’s word was “adequate”), and she looks like a full-grown woman now. Deen was pretty good, and certainly was plausible as a sociopath. Schrader, who has never been my favorite director and whose style can be quite insufferably pedantic, at least offers enough that you feel like he’s trying, like a scene at an outdoor restaurant where cars are driving by, and we are hearing the sound of the passing cars, emphasizing the sense of anonymous people going somewhere and nowhere. The script is very Ellis, as it gets something right about these people and their affectless, unconnected lives, but at the same time seems superficial and not entirely thought-through, as though he deserves congratulation just for covering this milieu at all. And as I said at the beginning, it seems like the main point was to make a viable no-budget movie, the aim of making a GOOD no-budget movie a close second.

So, this may shock you, but some people think those in the Hollywood movie industry are emotionally-unhealthy, socially-disconnected people filling their days and nights with empty sex, booze and drugs. If you need to, please go take a breather while you go process that information. That’s cool, and I am ALL in favor of social satire, even aimed at the Hollywood set for the billionth time, but I think it fails when the primary effect is to make me think of films that did it better—and to put the execrable Baghead on that list! But yeah, Baghead captured all this creative barrenness and vacuous nature of Hollywood bottom-feeders much more vividly. This movie also has a number of issues, like that it takes so long to figure out what is actually happening that it starts to prevent you’re getting INTO what’s happening [you heard that Steven Soderburgh offered to re-edit it for free? And Schrader turned him down?]. Then there’s other conceits that just don’t work, like that someone wouldn’t even realize that they had the wrong phone for a whole day, or that you can just kill someone and no one will really look into it. In certain ways, the movie’s adolescent reach for seriousness puts it in the company of The Butterfly Effect.

So what’s it all about? It’s kind of trying to draw a connection between these empty people and their vacuous lives, and the current state of the movie industry. There is the way this is micro-budgeted and available on demand, and all the shuttered movie theaters. There’s the discussion of making movies on your cellphone. At one point Lohan asks someone when was the last time they went to the movies, not just watching something at home. No one involved in the movie they’re supposedly making actually seems to care about it. Christian can still get his trust fund so long as he’s working on a movie. So… there you go. But even all this comes off as content because a movie is supposed to have content, rather than feeling like this is a statement someone was dying to make. So again… the main point here was to show that one could make a really cheap movie, and everything else comes second. And it really seems like it.

As an added bonus, here is a curated list of the most hilarious titles from James Deen's filmography: The Last Whorehouse on the Left, Where’s the Cum?, Vault of Whores, POV Squirt Alert 2, Romantic Rectal Reaming, Mom Likes To Hoe, Titty Titty Bang Bang, Apprentass 5, Screamin’ for Semen 2, Lip Lock My Cock, Missionary: Impossible, The Da Vinci Load, Tits Ahoy 4, Atomic Vixens: Escape from the Valley of the Sluts, Slutty & Sluttier 3, Bang My Juice Boxxx 2, You’ve Got a Mother Thing Cumming, The Da Vinci Load 2: Angels & Semen, I’ve Been Sodomized 5, I Came In Your Mom, Cumcocktion, Boobzilla 3, Private Fetish Nylon Nymphomania, Water Mellons, Hair Force One 5, Superhero Sex Therapist, Joanna Angel’s Cumtastic Cookout, Cum Fart Cocktails 9, and A Big Tit Christmas 3.

Should you watch it: 

If it sounds appealing to you.