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Can Lindsay Lohan change her luck?

Once promising actress now thought of as part of the Paris Hilton pack. By Paige Ferrari

Once upon a time, there was a precocious little girl from Long Island. She had long red hair, adorable little freckles, a contract with Ford Models and a career as an up-and-coming child actor. True, daddy was in prison for securities fraud. True, mom did spend a chunk of that “Parent Trap” money on tanning salon and Virginia Slims. Still, from an early age the stars seemed aligned in Lindsay Lohan’s favor.

Then Lindsay grew up a bit. Instead of being condemned to the grim life of a formerly-cute-child-star, her good fortune just seemed to improve. She starred in meatier and meatier teen roles — “Freaky Friday,” “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,” and then  “Mean Girls,” the breakout role. How I loved “Mean Girls.” I wanted Lindsay’s home-schooled Skipper to usurp Rachel McAdams’ Barbie. I rooted for her with the kind of enthusiasm most people reserve for horse races and presidential elections.  

Roger Ebert liked Lindsay too. He even compared her to Jodie Foster for her “seriousness and intense focus.” Not too shabby. The tabloids weren’t so harsh at the time. They called her a “curvy vixen,” (and not in the euphemistic way often applied to Mariah Carey). Back then, the most salacious rumor about Lindsay was that she’d had some surgical enhancement.  Frankly, this is a rumor some of us spend a lifetime trying to plant. Yes, despite some minor stumbling blocks, Lindsay was very lucky indeed.

Lohan loses focusOf course, we all know where the story goes from here.  Just when it seemed like Lindsay had the world on a string, her career took a turn away from Jodie Fosterville and started careening down a dark trash-strewn road to Denise Richardstown.  It wasn’t only the extracurricular shenanigans — let she among us who has not taken a drunken spill down Bryan Adams’ stairs be the first to condemn. It was the projects. We knew Lindsay could do better.  First, there was “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” Then there was Lindsay looking a little loaded herself, and phoning in some of the most half-hearted publicity appearances in Disney movie history. Seriously, Lindsay, don’t just stand there. Put your arm around that lovably sentient car. Pretend that you like each other. 

While America was still reeling from “Herbie,” Lindsay released her debut album, “Speak.” It was filled with songs about just wanting to be “left alone” to “dance” and “have fun,” lyrics that sounded like they had been cranked out of the “celebutante side project” machine.  Lindsay’s breakup with Wilmer Valderrama was also no picnic. While it was endearing to see Lindsay so unabashedly heartbroken, spilling her guts to every reporter who would listen, it was also sad — like watching a friend cry and binge eat over the departure of a clear good-for-nothing. Again, we knew Lindsay could do better.

Sadly, in the two years since Lindsay starred in “Mean Girls” she has become less of an emerging talent, and more of an over-hyped personality. She’s now grouped with the same cadre of celebrities who are famous for being famous. In interviews she complains that her tabloid coverage and “party-girl” image have cost her opportunities to work with serious directors. She may be right.  These days, the Roger Ebert precocious young actress award goes to Scarlett Johansson.

A first stepLindsay’s latest movie “Just My Luck” debuts in theaters this week, just in time for Lindsay to remind us that she really is a working actress. “Luck” is a transparent bridge project. It’s fluffy enough to attract a teen audience, but it still takes Lindsay out of high school and into the slightly more serious adult working-world. (She's cast as an “ad executive,” the stock profession for young women in romantic comedies.) The movie is likely to please Lindsay’s core fanbase, but can it win over an audience beyond teenage girls and lecherous old men? More importantly: can it restore Lindsay’s luck o’ the legitimate actress?

Based on the fact that Lindsay is lifting her sunglasses and giving a saucy wink on the movie’s poster, I’m going to say no. For Lindsay, “Just My Luck” is just a baby step forward, a tip toe towards more grown-up roles and serious projects. This sugary little movie won’t hurt, it simply won’t help. I’ll probably enjoy it on Netflix or at my next slumber party. But, honestly Lindsay,  2004 is gone and it isn’t coming back. We’re going to need some bigger guns than “Just My Luck” before you and Jodie Foster even appear in the same sentence.

That’s when my story of the young girl from Long Island, the one with the sudden bout of misfortune, gets its moment of redemption. Just when that red-headed girl stood at a critical career crossroads, she was visited by a powerful fairy godmother. That godmother was, of course, none other than Meryl Streep. Very lucky indeed. Already, Meryl is on the cover of “W” stroking Lindsay’s hair and praising her talent and professionalism in their upcoming movie, “A Prairie Home Companion.” “Prairie Home Companion”  seems poised to perform the career alchemy that “Just My Luck” can not.  If it does, it will be at least partially due to Streep’s support of Lindsay and the benefit of her inarguable Midas touch — the ability to legitimize everything in her orbit, including hard-partying teen costars. 

My advice to Lindsay would be this: Cash in the check for “Just My Luck” and don’t look back. Now, take Meryl Streep to dinner. Write her a nice thank-you card, and thank the heavens above for her endorsement. Send that woman a muffin basket. Daily. Kiss her under shooting stars, try to think the same thoughts, and hope and pray that you pick up a little of that lucky spark called "greatness." It’s not guaranteed to be contagious, but it can’t hurt.  In any case, it’s far less risky than anything you’ll catch from hanging out with that Paris Hilton.