If there is a level of irony or camp through which one might find entertainment from watching The Canyons, I failed to identify it. Even with a full appreciation of the film's themes (movie theaters are dead, cell phones are bad, we are all actors and directors in our own dramas, people in Hollywood like to get it on), I'm not sure it's meant to be enjoyed. The film is too competent to be funny, and too flat and boring to be of any legitimate dramatic interest. Gus Van Sant shows up for a couple minutes. Those were the two minutes I could stand.
To be fair, I'm not sure I'd enjoy even the best possible version of this story. The plot revolves around a group of very pretty people who are all screwing each other. When they begin screwing each other in ways they don't all approve, some of them get angry about it.
Of course, the film takes place in Hollywood, so everyone in involved has some association with the film business, however peripheral. The main guy is a trust fund producer who works in film solely for the power trip and to alleviate boredom. Lindsay Lohan is a former actress. The other main guy is an aspiring actor. One lady is an assistant of some kind. Yet another lady is a failed actress-turned-yoga instructor (a form of acting where you pretend to access nirvana via stretching). None of these people display any love for or working knowledge of film, which speaks to the film's themes, but also might be a blessing in disguise as there's absolutely no way film discussion coming from this group would be anything but a grating affectation.
The ins and outs of the plot might marginally please people who are already predisposed to like this kind of film, and as someone who will watch pretty much any dumb action film available, I don't say that to be derogatory. I'm just not much for teary relationship/infidelity dramas, particularly ones about empty young people. I'm also not impressed with stories that revel in the somewhat narcissistic characterization of Hollywood as a soul sucking mistress who gobbles up wide-eyed dreamers and spits out scarred and broken cynics. Walmart does that, too. Living in the Midwest, it's hard to get worked up over the salaciousness of a bisexual four-way when there's probably a Craigslist orgy going on right now just down the street.
Lindsay Lohan supplies The Canyons with its one real star and only chance at a campy saving grace. The scars from Lohan's well documented real life rough ride do a lot of the acting for her, but that doesn't make their blatant display any less compelling, though a kind of queasiness permeates her scenes as well. Amongst all these shiny, beautiful new people who are supposed to be her peers, Lohan's rawness emits a "one of these things is not like the other" radiance that almost feels exploitive. I don't feel her performance is especially good (no one in the film delivers a natural performance - whether that's an affectation or a limitation remains in the eye of the beholder), but she's certainly interesting.
I honestly found the film's male cast difficult to tell apart. James Deen, the film's lead, is a real life male porn star. You will be surprised to learn that the other guys aren't.
Paul Schrader has always been a strange filmmaker whose talent hardly dictates the quality of each new film he puts out. He may have totally nailed what he was going for here, but The Canyons never feels worth the effort it takes to actually watch it. The film isn't a total train wreck, but ultimately supplies the least interesting part of its own infamy.