Many of the accounts of Lindsay Lohan’s teary jail sentencing yesterday (video embedded below) bemoan the waste of the young star’s “talent .” Indeed: In her early films, Mean Girls and The Parent Trap , Lohan displayed true star quality. However, Mean Girls came out in 2004, and in the intervening 6 years, Lohan’s alleged drug and alcohol use and tumultuous romantic entanglements have received far more press than any of her acting gigs.
In broad strokes, Lohan’s trajectory is reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s as portrayed in the fabulous new biography of Taylor and her ex-husband, Richard Burton, Furious Love . Both had domineering stage mothers, little semblance of a real childhood, fame from a young age, substance abuse issues, public emotional outpourings, and copious amounts of tabloid drama. The key difference, though, is that Elizabeth Taylor had a true record of achievement before she became the most notorious movie star in America. She had made almost 30 movies by the time she and Burton were making headlines. She was famously reliable: No matter how hungover she was, she always came to set knowing all her lines. In the midst of the arguably greatest paparazzi harassment any celebrity has ever received, she won two Oscars-in 1960 and 1966.
The major problem for Lohan is that her tabloid notoriety preceded any real commercial or critical triumphs or expression of that latent talent. Her last successful role was during the first four years of the Bush administration. She showed up half a day late to take promotional photos for her own leggings line . But Lindsay Lohan is merely a product of the modern age, where tabloids are littered with reality TV nobodies alongside the truly A-list. Who knows what would have happened to Elizabeth Taylor had she become famous in the aughts rather than in the ‘40s: Considering Dame Liz’s love of Twitter , she might have publicly imploded before she hit her stride in a strikingly LiLo-like fashion.