On July 2, Lindsay Lohan turns 20. Only 20? Somehow, it seems that she has always been with us. And, in some ways, she has.
"We had faces then!" wailed faded silent film star-cum-homicidal maniac Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," lamenting the passing of an era, and her career (and, implicitly, her face). But it was a hollow boast. Hollywood has always had faces. Hollywood survives on faces. But the face has to be worth looking at.
And with a grand total of seven features under her belt -- including "A Prairie Home Companion," which opens Friday -- the estimable Lohan is essentially face.
A beautiful face. The alpine cheekbones sometimes seem carved from Carrera marble; the line of her upper lip and the tip of her nose are in navigational synch, gesturing, perhaps, toward a luminous constellation on a particularly starry night. The eyes flash and the smile sparks.
And they have from the start. Born in New York City and raised in Merrick, Lohan was the first redheaded kid signed by the Ford modeling agency.
She is the child of Dina (a one-time Rockette and Wall Street analyst who manages her daughter's career), and the troubled Michael -- a longtime Wall Street trader who developed, then sold, his family's multimillion-dollar pasta business to get into film production. He's serving up to four years in prison for attempted assault, driving while impaired and other charges.
As a pint-sized product-promoter, Lohan ran the gamut of commercial work, shilling for Pizza Hut, Jell-O and Wendy's. Later, she played a bag of garbage on David Letterman's show, when he was still with NBC.
Everybody has 'em, but the former teen idol's skirmishes with tabloid celebrity have threatened to eclipse anything she does on screen. A fixture in the tabloid gossip pages, and an object of gleeful and frequent attention on celeb-watching Web sites, she showed admirable restraint recently when she declined to comment on the repugnant video made by night-crawling rival Paris Hilton and her intoxicated boyfriend, oil scion Brandon Davis.
It seems almost irrelevant to ask, but can she act? Many reviews of her first feature, "The Parent Trap," noted that Lohan was able to give both of the twins she played distinct and engaging personalities. "Mean Girls" was a triumph, even if Lohan's duties were basically about acting nonplussed as a home-schooled South African transplant tossed into in a cutthroat American high school. The recent "Just My Luck" was a full-blown setback.
Regardless of how she fares artistically, or editorially, Lohan has one invaluable asset: The camera -- so cruel to some -- is infatuated with her.
Lohan, it must be said, has been the beneficiary of magic -- the inexplicable thing that happens between certain stars and the screen. She may learn to act, but what she already has can't be learned
Women don't have a monopoly on this quality: From Cary Grant to Tom Cruise, the hottest actors have relied far more on hormonal response than dramatic ability.
In Lohan's case, seldom have so many freckles done so much for so many.
Which brings us to the tragicomic aspect of the Lindsay Lohan phenomenon. Many who grow up in the movies (Lohan was a Ford model at 3 and a preteen when she did her double-duty debut, "The Parent Trap") eventually grow out of them. The foibles of Lohan's extended-by-Hollywood adolescence -- the car crashes, the mimbo eruptions -- all seems harbingers of a meltdown. There's a certain poignancy to a child star's inability to adjust; the Judy Garland estate is still profiting by hers. But eventually it all becomes more comic than tragic.
There are analogies to Lohan. One is tennis: Anna Kournikova, never a first-rate player, was the game's hottest woman star for quite a while. Why? Because she had the face of a child and the body of a woman. Sex, in case we haven't mentioned it, is what it's all about. Which brings us, strangely, to Disney World.
The Disney days
It's seems significant that of Lohan's seven features, three were for Disney -- the recent woeful "Just My Luck," the often charming "Freaky Friday" and, of course, "Herbie Fully Loaded" (an unfortunate title, all things considered). Lohan can't be accused of being cartoonish herself, per se, but her relationship to certain animated characters -- Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas -- is obvious. She represents sex in a childproof container. "The Little Mermaid's" Ariel (modeled, it has been said, after Alyssa Milano), Pocahontas (reportedly inspired by model Christy Turlington) and "Aladdin's" Jasmine are all baby bombshells. Check out Lohan in her best movie, "Mean Girls," with its acid-honey script by Tina Fey, and you'll see she's upholding a Disney tradition.
But being a live-action Disney character isn't the kind of thing that lasts forever, which is why Friday will find Lohan in "A Prairie Home Companion," Robert Altman's multi-charactered paean to Garrison Keillor's radio show. It puts Lohan in the company of a resolutely grown-up group of actors: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen. Lohan also has five projects in various stages of production, from Emilio Estevez's "Bobby," about the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, to "Chapter 27," which concerns Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon. Not exactly "Herbie Fully Loaded," and, with the exception of "Georgia Rule," in which she plays the sexually abused daughter of Felicity Huffman and granddaughter of Jane Fonda, she's not the marquee name in any of them.
"Lindsay wanted to move into more adult projects," said Altman's longtime producer, David Levy. "On 'Prairie,' we had the part of a young girl we hadn't cast and her 'people' as we say, came to us. She's great. She wanted to be part of a film where she wasn't in every scene. It moves her away from the kid pictures. And she got to work with Meryl."
In "Companion," Lohan cuts a subdued figure, but seems perfectly at home as part of the ensemble -- a smart move. But a grasp of reality within the complicated world of Lindsay Lohan has been clear since she first hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 2004.
The opening skit featured show host Lohan and Amy Poehler (the "hip mom" in "Mean Girls") as the Lindsay Lohan of the future -- dissipated, washed up and partied out. That Lohan could laugh about it then may mean we won't have to laugh about it later.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times