Liz & Dick, Lifetime’s movie about the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, contains a dumbfoundingly stupid moment near its beginning. Well, it has a lot of dumbfoundingly stupid moments, about 127 minutes’ worth, near the beginning, middle, end and continuing into the nightmarish flashbacks you will suffer for days after viewing it until you sink to your knees in prayer for the sweet bliss of death.
But unlike most of Liz & Dick’s stupid moments, which serve mostly to torment you with doubt about the existence of human intelligence, this particular one offers a brief flash of insight before sending another million of your brain cells plunging to their deaths like tiny neurological lemmings. Taylor and Burton have just met on the set of their umpty-gazillion-dollar film Cleopatra, engaged in a sneering contest and retreated to their dressing rooms to sulk, whereupon each of them learns they have to do a love scene together.
“A love scene? With him?” shouts Taylor to her assistant. “A love scene? With her?” shouts Burton to his assistant. This is quite informative — not about Taylor and Burton, who in real life collected nine Oscar nominations between them and, it can be reasonably surmised, read their scripts before going on stage. But the possibility that nobody at Lifetime read the screenplay of this colossally idiotic show before greenlighting it seems horrifyingly real. No human being, and probably not even many dogs or cats, could be exposed to illiteracy like this and survive.
Because Lindsey Lohan’s popularity hovers slightly below that of the E. coli bacterium, a lot of people are going to try to blame her presence — she plays, God help us, Taylor — for the atrocity that is Liz & Dick . This is not exactly fair. Notice I said “exactly.” She’s terrible, so terrible that she ought to be clubbed like a baby seal. As for her co-star Grant Bowler, it is sufficient to say that his portrayal of a redneck biker werewolf in True Blood has more a ring of authenticity than does his turn at Burton.
But it’s hard to pick on the cast of a show in which characters are made to cry out things like “You are now a beautiful woman with the depths of the ocean in your violet eyes, and the promise of a ripe plum in your soft foam lips and your spilling white hot bosom!” Or that includes exchanges like this one.
Taylor: “Why would anyone hire a vomiting vat of vodka like you?”
Burton: “At least when I vomit, I make mellifluous sounds unlike your little mouse-crap squeaks.”
Taylor: “Mellifluous? Who was he, some Roman homosexual you buggered?”
In the context of Liz & Dick, that actually rises to the level of repartee. More often, the dialogue is stuff like “How dare you speak to me like that? My heart is broken!” Or, “It’s for the children, Elizabeth!” Or, “I won’t live without you!”
Nominally Liz & Dick follows Taylor and Burton all the way from their scandalous affair on the set of Cleopatra (it may seem quaint by Planet Kardashian standards, but in 1960 public adultery was enough to draw them a papal rebuke for their “erotic vagrancy”) to the drunken, dissipated Burton’s death from a cerebral hemorrhage 24 years later.
But the show really concentrates on the Cleopatra romance and the decade-long marriage that followed. Well, “concentrates” isn’t quite the right word, implying as it does some a degree of intellectual engagement. Liz & Dick alternates between imbecile fatuity (particularly in its device of intercutting scenes of a black-clad Taylor and Burton musing on their relationship like characters who’ve wandered in from an East German experimental film) and stupefying literalness. The scene in which Burton takes a look down Taylor’s décolletage, then mounts her as an entire film crew looks on, is sure to be enshrined in the Dumbass Vulgarity Hall of Fame. As will Liz & Dick’s executive producer, Larry A. Thompson. “I’ve been called everything from an idiot to a genius,” he recently told The Hollywood Reporter, “and the jury’s still out on that.” Oh no it’s not.