What are you waiting for, Disney?
The Disney fan child inside all of us has suffered long for a live action remake of The Little Mermaid. Fortunately, Lindsay Lohan will make it happen. This weekend, the Mean Girls-star posted a photo of herself juxtaposed with an image of the animated star, voiced by Jodi Benson in the 1989 movie. “A source close to Lohan,” Entertainment Weekly reports, confirmed she “wants to do” Ariel in a remake of the Disney movie. Many have touted this as a chance for Lohan to “revive her long-stalled acting career,” as E! News has put it. Have any of these people even watched The Canyons?
Predating even Lohan’s turn as Elizabeth Taylor in Lifetime’s Liz & Dick, Joe Wright begun the quest of adapting The Little Mermaid, with a script by Abi Morgan (Shame) and the interest of Working Title Films. Then, because the promise of Steve MeQueen’s dark and sexy New York wasn’t enough, Kelly Marcel (Fifty Shades of Grey) took another stab at the script. Then Joe Wright left, to direct Pan, and Sofia Coppola took over, bringing the promise of some kind of auteurist touch. Then she said she would not do it. Then Rebecca Thomas (Electrick Children) was in talks to do it and the script was apparently now being written by Richard Curtis, of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame. It would apparently star Chloë Grace Moretz. Then Moretz dropped it and all other roles in order to “reassess who I am and find myself within my roles again.” Sometime in between all this, Disney wanted skin in the game and, not to look late to that game, got dibs on Lin-Manuel Miranda (along with Alan Menken, who originally composed the 1989 movie), who basically named his kid Sebastian out of a lifelong love of The Little Mermaid.
Which is way of saying that Lindsay Lohan is the perfect name to drop somewhere in that mess. The kind of frightened warmth that she brings to even roles that are basically written in order to parody the idea of, look, it’s Lindsay Lohan, she’s a celebrity, is the kind of thing that sneaks on you. Last year, when Lohan debuted a new accent amidst her new life in Eastern Europe, an academic psychologist was called forth by Vanity Fair to proclaim: “She is making herself as the person with whom she is speaking with.” Didn’t that one Ebert fellow say some platitude about movies, empathy and all that jazz?
People have not been taking to Lindsay Lohan’s ideas lately. Shortly before ringing in the New Year, we gave you the scoop that Lohan told CNN’s Becky Anderson she had been actively trying to make a Mean Girls 2 for some time now and even wrote a treatment for it. “It is not in my hands,” she explained with a kind of chipper sadness, like Holden Caulfield telling you his plans to escape the big city, “but everyone is very busy.” Just look at Anderson’s bizarre scowl in that video; she’s interviewing the star of The Canyons in between checking her phone and suppressing laughter.
While Lohan begun her career in a Disney remake (The Parent Trap), her career has taken her into the direction of more adult fare. Did I mention her starring role in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, a thrilling coming-of-middle-age tale which paired her with James Deen, notorious porn star, and a script by Bret Easton Ellis, notorious ‘writer’? “No one involved in the movie is quite respectable,” Lili Anolik observed at the time. I have a vivid memory of a scene where Lindsay is eating brunch (if brunch is a thing that exists in LA) and a truck appears to be driving straight into the shot, because the streets were clearly not blocked off, before making a turn. The movie was beautiful in that way.
The collective idea of Lohan is something impermeably other; watched, observed, slipping in and out of the imagination from a space whose existence we cannot even contemplate. She has opinions on Brazilian politics? She co-runs a nightclub in Athens? When ostensibly the subject of New York Times Magazine’s “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie,” she is not interviewed. Sady Doyle identities Lohan as a Trainwreak, the title of her study of woman vilified throughout modern media. Doyle wrote, in the Atlantic:
And men seem to have more avenues open for rehabilitation: Just look at all the adoration reserved for Robert Downey, Jr. and Mickey Rourke, men whose struggles with alcohol and drugs are well-known and readily forgiven… The stories of badly behaved women, on the other hand, tend to end in obscurity or early death.
Disney has, family image or not, not shied away from from contracting a post-addiction Robert Downey, Jr. in a poorly-conceived family comedy centered around a dog.
“The Little Mermaid,” as conceived by Hans Christian Andersen and, to a lesser extent, Disney is a story about what innocence means. It is about moral alienation in the face of desire, it is about the impossibility of the chasms that we, daily, leap. Lohan, who is doing perfectly fine on the other side of the world, is content to never come back to Hollywood again, “I’m not going back until I have my own studio,” she told Anderson at CNN. Disney, while perfectly capable of pulling off an impeccable live action reboot as an aesthetic exercise, is still unable to prove that it is (re)telling a story that feels particularly contemporary or necessary. As Manohla Dargis noted, Disney’s original Jungle Book (1967), when released, felt copiously reflective of that era’s new conservation politics in a way that left its reboot feeling vapid; the first Endangered Species Act having passed the year before Ken Anderson’s lushly depicted jungles hit screens for the first time while nothing has particularly exciting about well-done CGI since Avatar. In the rush to throw The Little Mermaid on silver screens before anyone else can, casting Lohan has an angle built right in: it will be teased like a redemption story and feel like Bling Ring meets the soulfully-written version of Shark Tale that doesn’t exist. And she already took care of the hair.