Could Lindsay Lohan be just one comedy shy of a comeback?
There was a time not too long ago the 23-year-old was raking in box office and positive praise for her performances in movies such as "Freaky Friday" and the Tina Fey-penned "Mean Girls."
But in recent years, as Lohan's often out-of-control personal life has been tabloid fodder, her acting career has gone by the wayside. A guest run on "Ugly Betty" was cut short, and recent films have turned out to be little-seen duds, including the romantic comedy "Just My Luck" opposite a then-unknown Chris Pine, the ho-hum family drama "Georgia Rule," and the thriller "I Know Who Killed Me," which cleaned up at the Razzie Awards and made just $7.4 million at the domestic box office.
Lohan's latest, "Labor Pains," about a woman who fakes a pregnancy to avoid being fired, was supposed to put her comedic gifts back in the spotlight. Whether that will happen is now up to a television audience -- the movie won't be playing in theaters. Lohan is not doing press for the film and declined a request for an interview through her representatives.
"Labor Pains" will premiere Sunday on ABC Family, a network owned by Disney, which launched some of Lohan's biggest hits: "The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday" and later "Herbie: Fully Loaded." First Look will release "Labor Pains" on DVD Aug. 4.
"Lindsay's been a great draw for us, so we felt there was a good opportunity," said Tom Zappala, ABC Family senior vice president of program acquisitions. In spite of her flagging reputation, Zappala bought premiere rights to the film based on the Lohan romantic comedy premise alone, script unseen. The network continues to draw above-average ratings from airings of her other films, such as "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" and "Mean Girls."
The script for "Labor Pains" was originally developed as a wide-release film by Warner Bros., but when that option lapsed, director and co-writer Lara Shapiro found other funding at smaller production companies.
Producer Rick Schwartz, whose other credits include "The Aviator" and "The Departed," said a theatrical run would have been ideal, but that the low-budget film was not intended as a wide release. Its production costs "were in line with what a place like ABC Family would spend on their original TV movies," he said -- ballpark: $1 million to $2 million -- adding that the film will ultimately be profitable.
Lohan came on board well after Warner Bros. dropped out. Shapiro said the actress, who reportedly made $7.5 million in 2006 for "Just My Luck," wasn't fazed by the idea of "low budget" and seemed genuinely interested in getting her career back on track. "We only talked about the story and character," she said. Cheryl Hines, Chris Parnell and Janeane Garofalo signed on later.
In February, Lohan complained to Interview magazine that she wasn't getting the same opportunities as peers like Scarlett Johansson "because people are so distracted by the mess I created in my life."
For Shapiro, a first-time feature director, concerns about working with the paparazzi magnet took a back seat. "I took the gamble. I really wasn't that worried. There aren't that many girls in her age group who can do comedy well. I thought it was worth it . . . I was betting on the 'Freaky Friday' Lindsay Lohan.
"Labor Pains" was shot last summer, and while the shoot was constantly flanked by photographers, Shapiro said her star remained professional. In fact, Lohan never even discussed the uninvited crowd. "I wasn't used to it, but she was, and she's real good at ignoring it," Shapiro said. "If they weren't there, she probably could focus better, but I never saw it get in her way."
ABC Family has gotten considerable press for the project, and early reviews for the film have been mostly positive (though not in this paper), some singling out Lohan as a high point.
Schwartz e-mailed Lohan some of those reviews earlier this week. Lohan, it seems, surprised even herself. He said that she texted him back: "Wow! These are good."
"Good or bad, she wanted the headlines to be about something other than her personal life," Schwartz said. "It's a vehicle that takes her back to her roots. I like to think it's a stepping stone for her."