I cannot lie: I had a fantastic time watching Liz & Dick. It is absolutely terrible and hysterically funny – who can ask for more during these troubled times? Purporting to tell the tale of the great celebrity romance of the last century, Lifetime’s “story” of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton exists only on the level of spectacle, but it’s an eye-popping one. Lindsay Lohan’s voice is devolving into Kathleen Turner registers with alarming rapidity, and Grant Bowler is asked to act with the worst hair I’ve seen on screen since Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July. I’d also argue the two of them don’t humiliate themselves by the end. But maybe the movie made me actually insane. It’s possible!
Here is a list of the things in Liz & Dick that made me laugh, in order. There are, uh, spoilers, but please. It is not that sort of movie. It airs on Sunday at 9.
1) The opening credits are over a series of images of the two stars in full Taylor and Burton regalia. My clear favorite was Burton holding a skull as Hamlet. Alas indeed. (True Blood fans: Bowler played Cooter.)
2) Many of the reviews, including the now famous one by my friend Tim Goodman in The Hollywood Reporter (famous because Lindsay Lohan said she refuses to read it because it’s too mean) have derided Liz & Dick’s horrific narrative device of Liz and Dick addressing the viewer directly about their relationship while wearing all black on a black set. These interstitials begin immediately, and man: what a mistake. It’s so false and creates such an impossible hurdle and the look reminded me of Mummenschanz. Do young people know what Mummenschanz is? Probably not. They were a surrealist Swiss theater group who had a Broadway show in the late ‘70s. They literally scared me.
3) The romance begins in July 1961 when Burton joins the cast of Cleopatra. I laughed when he walks onto the set and says, “Excuse me, Mr. Mankiewicz” to Joseph L. Mankiewicz on his first day.
4) After Elizabeth disses Richard, he sets about trying to woo her by being mean about her within her hearing. He tells the story of the dis, by saying a woman was rude to him. Here’s part of it, and I may have messed up some of the end because the words made no sense to me. “I said, ‘Has anyone ever told you you’re a very pretty girl?’ Then I paused. And she walked away before I could add: ‘Well, they would be a fool. You are not a pretty girl, though you once were. 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.’”
5) Clearly fighting their attraction, Richard calls her “dumpy.” It becomes his affectionate nickname for her.
6) About to start filming their love scene even though they hate each other, Elizabeth says, “Are you staring at my chest?” Richard says: “Why not? It’s the very heart of you!” Blah blah. They begin making out in front of the entire crew.
7) Richard gets drunk and forces Elizabeth to admit in front of her husband, Eddie Fisher, and a whole party that she loves him and not Eddie.
8) Richard quotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” as they take a bath together. Elizabeth says: “Who knew Italy could be so hot?”
9) In a scene two seconds later: “We could go to the pool,” says Elizabeth. “I don’t need a pool. I have a whole ocean in you,” Richard replies.
10) One minute later, Richard quotes John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to Bed.” Elizabeth: “More! I want more.” Richard: “More — I’m starting to feel that may be your favorite word.” Elizabeth: “Would you prefer less?” Richard: “No.”
11) Elizabeth yells at spying paparazzi, “You call yourselves journalists!”
12) When Sybil Burton tries to kill herself, and Richard has to explain his absence, and his brother asks, “Where were you?” “Lost in the middle of an ocean,” Richard answers.
13) After Sybil’s suicide attempt, Richard tells Elizabeth he needs to be with his family. She yells, “I won’t live without you!” runs down a hall, takes a handful of pills, and downs them with alcohol. He rushes her to the hospital.
14) Reunited in Switzerland, Richard and Elizabeth sit in front of many fake backdrops of castles and other nice scenery.
15) Richard tells Elizabeth he’s taken a part in The V.I.P.s and the producers want Sophia Loren to play his wife. Elizabeth says: “I think La Loren should stay in Rome. Well, you heard me. That role is mine!”
16) Drinking vodka early in the morning in a furry Russian hat and sunglasses (indoors), Elizabeth barks “What are you looking at!” at a production assistant.
17) In a Mummenshanz scene about this difficult period in their relationship, when Richard was torn between Elizabeth and his family, things get avant-garde. “Elizabeth, where are you?” Richard says to the air. Elizabeth is sitting two feet away. “I’m here, my love,” she answers, logically.
18) Elizabeth busts into Richard’s hotel room and hangs a Van Gogh on the wall.
19) The hotel manager tries to ask them who will be paying for the room and how many they’ll need once The V.I.P.s has stopped shooting. They begin to bicker in front of the manager. Richard says he doesn’t want to do any more films. Elizabeth says, “Go back to your beloved the-AY-ter, you thesBian.” Richard then quotes from Hamlet. That gives them an idea: They decide to go to New York so he can do Hamlet.
20) The Vatican denounces them. Richard and Elizabeth are attacked by picketers, one of whom carries a sign that reads, “Slut on a Hot Tin Roof.”
21) Richard explains to Elizabeth what Unitarians are.
22) They meet Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter who’d written Sweet Smell of Success and North by Northwest. He wants Elizabeth for his adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but tells Richard he’s too masculine to play George, and he also can’t imagine them fighting. They then fight for him to show him he’s wrong. She: “Why would anyone hire a vomiting vat of vodka like you?” He: “At least when I vomit, I make mellifluous sounds unlike your little mouse cramp squeaks.” She: “Mellifluous? What was he, some Roman homosexual you buggered?” (P.S. Again, I may be mistaken about “mouse cramp squeaks,” because what is that? But I rewound so many times, and then gave up trying to understand. What I do know is I’m going to start describing sounds as “mouse cramp squeaks.”)
23) Richard loses the Oscar for The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and goes into a rage because he’s lost to Lee Marvin (for Cat Ballou).
24) They actually reshot a short scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Lohan and Bowler in it. I have no words to describe it, nor the hubris of this act.
25) Elizabeth gains weight. Richard tells her, “I will love you even if you get as fat as a hippo.”
26) Elizabeth wins the best actress Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , but Richard loses to Paul Scofield for A Man for All Seasons. He goes into a snit and says it’s because Scofield stayed in the theater.
27) Richard and Elizabeth find out they’re going broke, so they move to a yacht.
28) Richard gets jealous of Elizabeth’s personal photographer, says she would flatten him if they had sex, and calls her “Miss Pudgy Digits.” She later punches him in his stomach while saying, “feel my pudgy hands now!”
29) Richard gets into a bidding war with Aristotle Onassis for a ring that auctions for $1.05 million. Their business manager sinks into despair.
30) Drunk, furious, upset that his brother has become paralyzed (do not ask), and angry that he’s about to take a crappy job in Bluebeard just for money, Richard yells, “I should have stayed on the stage like Scofield!”
31) After Richard’s brother Ifor dies, Elizabeth delivers a monologue in the Mummenschanz world about her affection for him.
32) Richard, now married to Sally Hay Burton, dies. Lindsay Lohan then has to do this incarnation of Elizabeth Taylor’s hair. Our final gift, viewers of Liz & Dick!