It seems I picked a great time to start this made-for-television column (I’m still taking suggestions for a revamped title) as there’s several films set for release and in development that will keep this column running for a while. Lifetime is no stranger to made-for-television biopics, especially considering they already did one on Elizabeth Taylor in 1995 starring Sherilyn Fenn (which I was lucky to find and will be reviewing in the future). That Taylor movie was three and a half hours, and encompassed a greater swath of Taylor’s life including all of her marriages. Knowing this it makes you wonder how Lifetime’s latest offering, Liz & Dick could fail so spectacularly. I mean it’s only focusing on a portion of Taylor’s lengthy life, one husband (albeit married twice), and aims to do so in only 88 minutes. The problems are numerous, and can’t all be heaped on troubled star Lindsay Lohan (although she is a key issue with this film). I’m more intrigued to compare this to the Fenn version…it honestly can’t be any worse.
Liz & Dick follows the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth Taylor (Lohan) and Richard Burton (Grant Bowler). After meeting on the set of Cleopatra the two engage in a globe-hopping affair, all captured by the public eye. As their relationship blossoms they marry, fight, and break up, but can’t seem to escape each other.
Oh where do I begin with this one? Let me give a few caveats here. I like Lindsay Lohan as an actress….before this. I love her films, yes even Georgia Rule, but unfortunately she’s a hollow shell of the actress she once was and this film ultimately proves it. Liz & Dick went through numerous issues in production, all of which are best detailed on other sites, but ultimately the film doesn’t present anything of merit within its 88 minutes. I didn’t learn anything about the Taylor/Burton relationship that I didn’t already know in the excellent book Furious Love (which I recommend everyone read in lieu of watching this). In fact, fans who don’t know anything about their relationship will be confused about why these two even liked each other. You don’t see a beautiful love story here; you see two jerks who apparently like to have sex with each other. The Burton/Taylor romance wasn’t perfect, but there was genuine love there right up until Burton died; all of which is lost in this film. I know I’ll get comments saying “It’s a Lifetime movie, what do you expect?” I honestly didn’t expect anything but to be entertained by how terrible this is. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but that doesn’t mean the crew shouldn’t try.
A predominant issue with Liz & Dick is the script. Screenwriter Christopher Monger wrote the teleplay for Temple Grandin which I’ve heard is great. I don’t know what happened between that film and here, but it seems to me this guy has no idea how to write a screenplay. Characters literally show up in places and say nothing to each other, then leave or the scene just ends. Several times throughout this film I asked “Why are they meeting?” “Why aren’t they saying anything?” Burton or Taylor will be conveniently parked outside each other’s houses, have a drink or a smoke, and then leave. This would be okay in one scene, but it happens numerous times making me believe they needed to pad the run time or the actors had no idea what to do. Other times characters will mention something that goes nowhere. A prime example is when Burton and Taylor are in Rome, and apparently in the middle of the crowd Burton gets a message that he needs to see his wife Sybil (Tanya Franks). He goes home, hugs his daughter, and goes back to Taylor! Was Sybil sick? Why did he go home? It’s poor screenwriting 101, and makes the audience feel this is an amateur production for all involved. I will say the lack of transitions makes for a lot of hilarity. Taylor ends up trying to kill herself, forcing Burton to pick her up to seemingly carry her to the car. There’s a flash cut to the hospital where Burton runs in carrying Taylor in his arms. Since the scene at the house segues right to the hospital I’m assuming Burton carried Taylor, in his arms, straight to the hospital? You also have characters show up with no background. It took me fifteen minutes to figure out the woman talking to Taylor about her four marriages was meant to be Taylor’s mother!
The fact that over ten years of a relationship is compressed into 88 minutes creates problems of its own. You never believe these two like each other for anything but sex. The film starts with the filming of Cleopatra which took over two years to film. The film pretty much wraps it up in about two days as Burton and Taylor are shown meeting for the first time on set, and then freaking out over a love scene. Two years, and it never ever feels like time is passing. It actually gets worse once the film goes from the 70s to the 80s. With only twelve minutes left in the film they squeeze in a divorce and a remarriage using newspaper clippings instead of actually balancing out both Burton/Taylor marriages. Much is made about Taylor’s age and her turning 40 yet Lohan doesn’t age a day in the film! At least lie to me with a little makeup people. The other characters actually keep reminding Liz she’s forty to make the audience remember she’s forty! You better remind me because she sure as hell doesn’t look it. Once Lohan rocks the 80s Taylor hair all believability goes out the door; thankfully the film ends at that point.
In terms of the acting neither Lohan nor Bowler is good. Bowler slowly edges out Lohan purely because he’s given better lines. The movie really should be The Richard Burton Story as Burton’s life appears to be far more interesting, and that’s sad considering Taylor led such a phenomenal life herself. While I did appreciate the film mentioning Burton’s Shakespearean background as a reason for jealousy between the two, the film makes way too much of it to the point of ridiculousness. Bowler’s lines are all lengthy soliloquies that are totally unnecessary. The screenwriter did realize that just because Burton studied Shakespeare, he didn’t speak like he was constantly on stage? I half expected someone to ask Burton if he wanted a hamburger, and have Burton start quoting The Tempest in reply! I mean he does not shut up, even during sex; oh yes the film makes he go on and on spouting poetry about Taylor during lovemaking…how did he ever get anything accomplished? I never quite understood the emphasis placed on these two’s sex lives. During the sex scene above he actually shouts that he’s getting a divorce because Sybil calls while he’s trying to have sex with Taylor. Um, I don’t think Burton decided he wanted a divorce simply because he was horny! Taylor isn’t much better because she’s constantly begging Burton for sex, ignoring her own family. I know these two had vigorous sex sessions, but I’m pretty sure they were able to function outside of the bedroom. Bowler is likable in the role, when he’s not talking too much, and he does try to work with what he can; it’s just not much.
If anything Lohan is the worst element of the film. She has virtually no energy or emotion in this role. She says all her lines like she’s got the script right in front of her or is reading a book on tape. I hope you like your Elizabeth Taylor to sound like the Simpson’s Patty and Selma because Lohan’s smoker’s voice gets irksome. She doesn’t try to give Taylor any type of accent despite Taylor’s English upbringing, and when she’s recreating scenes from Cleopatra it’s enough to make you never want to watch that film; when Lohan shouts “I’m bored! I’m so bored” it’s like a petulant child, not a woman who literally doesn’t know how to be normal. One scene has Burton giving Taylor a prized million-dollar ring, Lohan as if she’s a little girl given a piece of candy; discarding it and moving on. Oh, and expect gifs and other memes to start popping up with clips of Lohan trying to do a dead faint…it’s hilarious. It just seems like Lohan doesn’t know how to act normal. She’s forced into this bizarre limbo of trying to be natural, but acting as if it’s natural. It’s a bizarre acting style she’s doing, as if she’s got no style at all. It actually makes it hilarious to hear Taylor tell Burton “I can’t tell you a think about acting,” yes that’s actually a line and it’s funny as hell to hear because Lohan isn’t lying!
The script doesn’t help her much either, making Taylor out to be a horrific person herself. Taylor apparently could have cared less about her own children (not the case), especially when Burton says he has to go home and visit his kids, only to have Taylor shout she doesn’t care. When Taylor spends time with her children she looks like their sister and doesn’t actually interact with them. The kids act as props sure, but Lohan acts as if they aren’t even there.
Any Lifetime movie can be enjoyable due to bad acting, but there’s little worth watching in Liz & Dick. The film feels rushed and confuses the audience because nothing is allowed to be explained. The film’s advertising mentions the sex, the diamonds, and the fighting and that’s literally all you see in this film. You never feel this is a love story, but the tale of two selfish people (played by one of Hollywood’s most self-indulgent stars) who happened to enjoy sleeping together, and spending money. If you’re interested in the Burton/Taylor romance I recommend reading Furious Love, or actually watching a Burton/Taylor film. There’s little to make fun of in here, other than questioning why you’re wasting your time with it.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.