NEW YORK—The Canyons, Paul Schrader’s stylistic thriller starring James Deen and Lindsay Lohan, had its premiere in New York City at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center Monday night, followed by a question-and-answer session with the acclaimed director. The film marks the mainstream debut of Deen playing opposite Lohan in a comeback role of sorts, who’s made headlines of late more for her off-set behavior than her on-screen appearances.
While sex is central to The Canyons, Schrader insisted in the Q&A session that unlike his 2002 film Auto Focus—which did have pornography as its central theme—The Canyons is not about porn. “It happens to have an adult star as the male lead. It’s about the ‘hook-up’ culture. The hook-up culture is different than pornography. Just because James comes from that world doesn’t mean it’s about porn. Auto Focus was much more about that. Obviously when you make movies and tell stories, you deal with some very primal stuff. ... What’s going on right now is that the kids in this movie—I’m a generation away from Bret, Bret is a generation away from them—are the result of a post-porn generation. These are kids who have been raised in a sea of Internet pornography. How can that not affect someone’s moral ecosystem? I don’t know.”
Based on a script by Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero), The Canyons tells the story of L.A.’s bored and beautiful people, specifically Christian (Deen) and Tara (Lohan), a small-time movie producer and struggling actress, respectively. Christian has become a producer in name only since his father stopped financing his career until he does something to earn it, and Tara is at most a pseudo girlfriend, whom Christian uses to shoot having sex with various people on his iPhone. At the moment, Christian gets his kicks watching Tara having sex with guys, including a brief cameo by adult performer Danny Wylde, who appears early on as one of Christian’s hired cocks. He justifies his current fetish to Tara as “a dude phase” he’s going through when she questions him about it.
Most of the mainstream coverage of the Canyons premiere has focused on Lohan—who, like Deen, was not present at the screening. Her reason for not attending, according to various news sources: She was still in rehab for one more day. Not only was Deen absent from the event; his name rarely came up in the Q&A session, and most of the critical commentary so far—both positive and negative—has centered on Lohan.
Up until the premiere, however, few stories about The Canyons missed the opportunity to dish on Deen’s career as an adult performer. While both Lohan and Deen couldn’t come from more different backgrounds, they each brought complex baggage to the project. This screening at last shows the result of the cinematic pairing, which provides enough energy to keep the viewer intrigued with what is at first a slow-moving story but which builds up into a compellingly erotic tale of lust, power and deception.
Lohan and Deen do have terrific on-screen chemistry and pull off playing a young power couple with lots of trust issues caught up in the world of manipulation. Sex orbits their lives and is readily available. In one mildly scorching scene, Christian invites a couple over to engage in group sex with himself and Tara, and as we watch Tara make out with Lily LaBeau, Tara then exerts a sexual power play on Christian, forcing him to make out and engage in oral sex with LaBeau’s other half, Thomas Trussell.
Deen is impressive in his mainstream debut despite a few bumps. He appears to overact initially, not hitting his groove until midway through the film. Going mano a mano with Lohan, he appears a bit over his head with the seasoned star.
Though it may not be obvious outside of the adult industry, Deen's casting as the ultimate spoiled L.A. douchebag is certainly a stretch. Though this writer does not claim to know Deen at all, he has a reputation as one of the nicest, most likable guys in adult. Once the film grabs you, however, Deen is superb as the antagonist, pulling off a chilling screen villain. He will definitely grow and develop the acting chops for further lead roles, and The Canyons is proof Deen is capable of carrying a mainstream indie project.
Lohan herself gives a performance that will remind viewers of her potential acting greatness. Schrader himself called Lohan “magic.” Citing that “the old Lindsay” was who showed up during filming and explaining why he continued to work with her, Schrader said he would simply look at the monitor and say to himself, “Oh, that’s why. Certain people have the ability to mesmerize us, to keep us watching them. ... I would work with her again in a heartbeat. I think if she achieves a reputation of reliability she’ll have an enormous career in front of her. ... You can shoot around that behavior, but you can’t shoot around a lack of charisma.”
The Canyons is hardly porn, but it does feature nudity, sexy and sexual people, arousing simulated sex, and exotic scenery. More importantly, it’s a simple but solid script that nicely captures L.A.’s overly privileged dark side. Both leads deliver dynamic performances that make you want to see even more from them—and it’s almost certainly a career-making role for James Deen.