As I recall Elizabeth Taylor hated being called 'Liz.'
But I bet she didn't hate that as much as she'd hate "Liz & Dick" (9 p.m. Sunday, Lifetime), the TV movie about her love affair with Richard Burton, starring Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler.
It's not exactly disrespectful using the nickname the actress hated so much. The film makes a big deal about the fact that the couple helped herald the era of stars being hounded by paparazzi with their scandalous affair, and in tabloid culture they were 'Liz & Dick.' (Combining their names a la Brangelina would have been far worse. Try it.)
Yet that paparazzi-bait note is pretty much all the movie has to hang its hat on. It's all shallow replications of Elizabeth Taylor outfits and hairstyles, and Taylor/Burton fights and meltdowns without much insight or energy.
The film begins on the last day of Burton's life; apparently before he laid down for his final rest, he dispatched a love note to Taylor, which probably would have bugged his then-wife. From there, the film is set up with the couple, in a kind of darkened set purgatory, telling their love story to us.
That story seems structured like your basic rom-com: they meet on the set of "Cleopatra"; Taylor can't stand the married but womanizing Burton at first, but his accent and poetic turns of phrase win her over, and soon they are passionately in love, ruining the movie and making headlines in Catholic Rome because they both happen to be married.
I'm no Burton/Taylor expert, but I feel safe in saying that the two had a toxic love affair, the kind that's like a drug -- powerful, addictive and destructive. Bringing that to life on film requires chemistry between the two stars. I get the feeling Lohan and Bowler only had contact when the director said 'action.'
Despite the efforts by the PR machine (Dina Lohan) to make us think Lohan's life echoes Taylor's (eerie resemblance my bleep!), there's no evidence Ms. Lindsay has any understanding of what it meant to be Elizabeth Taylor. When the film opens, Taylor is on her third marriage; she lost the first love of her life Mike Todd, she's had children, she had a successful career. In other words, she'd been through some things. Lohan can't bring any of the layers portraying a life like that requires. She seems the victim of arrested development that she is, mouthing the lines but not embodying them. In a few years, after (God-willing) Lohan has gotten through her own issues and gained some perspective, she might be ready for this part. She seems rusty in her acting too; I've seen Lohan be delightful in films, but in 'Liz & Dick' she seems like a novice. Meanwhile, Bowler seems like he's a good actor, but the script doesn't give him much to work with. So he often takes the ham-fisted approach.
It's clear that there were times when Taylor and Burton acted selfishly, and thus, weren't very nice. But in "Liz & Dick" they seem like two bratty high school kids; show this Liz a shiny bauble and she'll light up. Heck, forget providing for family, Liz needs a new diamond! And Dick? Just give him an excuse to sulk and drink.
Really, I think the filmmakers gave up on the idea of realism during the making of 'Liz & Dick.' How else can you explain the fact that when Taylor famously gains weight -- causing the tabloid headline 'Cleo-Fat-Tra' -- there's not even an attempt to pad Lohan?
Near the end of this film and his career, Burton begins to make hack films just to pay the bills. So it gets pretty meta to see Fowler/Burton boozing because he has to make hack films as Fowler/Burton appears in a hack film! These are the kinds of things that go through your mind when you are watching a movie like this.
If the film had gone campy, it might be worthwhile and kind of fun. After all, Taylor was a bawdy gal. But it takes itself seriously and fails and so, it's a bit of a bore. I'm pretty sure anyone who knew Taylor or Burton won't recognize them here. (Man, I'd love to see Carrie Fisher do a Twitter analysis of this mess.)
The best thing about "Liz & Dick" is that it's so lame, it leaves room for someone to make a better version.