The Walt Disney Company stopped producing The Mickey Mouse Club in 1995, thereby cutting off a steady stream of child stars who, more often than not, found their way into TV and films. It was, in a way, a little stardom factory in which talented kids could get some experience and visibility. If it had lasted a little longer, young Lindsay might have been a part of it and followed the gig with bit parts on sitcoms. But it didn't happen that way. At the age of 12, Lindsay walked out onto the Disney stage and stood downstage center, alone.
Disney honored the remainder of Lindsay's three-picture deal with "Life Size" and "Get A Clue," two of the modest and earnest TV movies they released before teen stardom become their main theme. In "Life Size," Lindsay played a motherless pubertal tomboy who is given a glamour doll that comes to life in the form of Tyra Banks, who teaches her all about inner beauty, and "Get A Clue" features Lindsay as an aspiring journalist-turned-spy. There's not much to see here, because with her net film, Lindsay finally hit her stride as both an actress and Disney's most valuable market product.
The beginning Lindsay's ubiquity came in 2003, when Lindsay was 15, with "Freaky Friday," and it also marks the point at which important patterns start to emerge in her career. She was young, with perfect teeth and and a freckled face, and puberty had left her with big boobs. She was a perfect product for the teen market: Full of puckish potential with a dark side rumbling just below the surface, as well as a name everyone knew.
Like "The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday" was a remake of a Disney classic with a good gimmick, requiring the young lead actress to take on two roles: A mother and a daughter at odds with each other. At the time, Lindsay's Disney contract was over, so she was not among the first choices for the part, and director Mark Waters was not impressed when she was brought in for an audition. She hadn't had a theatrical film in five years - still her longest break from the multiplex - but no one was going to argue against her casting. Rather than bank on the other, unproven options (Evan Rachel Wood, Michelle Trachtenburg), Disney put the challenging role in the hands of a veteran, even if it didn't seem to suit her. Being cast in "Freaky Friday" was Lindsay's first and last stroke of pure luck.
"Freaky Friday" was also her first opportunity to play an adult. At the time, Lindsay was being shuttled back and forth between work obligations and high school on Long Island, and her parents' abusive marriage continued on. If Lindsay was convincing - not just as a teen but as her mother - and if the film was a success, she would never have to live at home again. The tremendous power she suddenly had was not lost on her: Lindsay spent a year learning to play guitar, and she meticulously studied videotapes of her co-star, Jamie Lee Curtis. Of course, Lindsay pulled it off. Her performance made Disney hundreds of millions of dollars and she got her first serious reviews.
Lindsay's life changed forever that summer. While "Freaky Friday" was rolling out into theatres, Disney and Lindsay shot her first name-atop-the-marquee vehicle, "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," designed to present Lindsay as a triple-threatening, full-powered charisma machine. Lindsay was suddenly America's most famous teenager.
As studios had done with their ingenues since the silent era, Disney manufactured a teenage romance for her, as well as a bitchy rivalry with Hilary Duff, her lower-caliber Disney counterpart. Cameras started following her, and she was grateful for their attention. She relocated to Los Angeles, bought herself a Mercedes, and at the age of 17, claimed her hard-won independence.
Released at the top of 2004, "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" is a children's film of insipid mediocrity. Lindsay plays Lola, an aspiring teen actress with dreams bigger than her high school. She coasts through the part capably, but it must not have been much of a stretch. Lola's unshakeable, possibly misplaced ambition must have resonated with Lindsay, because around this time, she decided she wanted a big piece of the music business. The film came complete generic pop-rock numbers with simple choreography, both of which make Lindsay's musical incompetance clear. Luckily for her, the film's embarrassing stench didn't last for long. Two months later, "Confessions" was followed by her greatest success, a contemporary masterpiece.
What can be said about "Mean Girls" that hasn't already been said? It is the pinnacle of Lindsay's professional career and a colossal piece of writing that quickly fell into place as a generation's undisputed cinematic urtext. Every last one of us has memorized Tina Fey's quotable screenplay from top to toe, and if there is a reason why Lindsay remains such a part of our daily media diet, it is because "Mean Girls" made an indelible mark on popular culture. It was her first PG-13 film and her first departure from Disney. She got to curse, show off her cleavage, interact with grown-up SNL talent who took her seriously as a comedian, and best of all, she finally got an honest-to-God leading lady role with wit and insight for an adult audience and satire her teen fans could understand.
"Mean Girls" represents a crossroads moment; in exchange for an instant classic and a crossover to adult stardom, Lindsay sacrificed her princess crown.
Lindsay got sick of her teen star cred very, very fast. That summer, Disney set her up in a posh apartment with Raven-Symone, but apparently, Lindsay rarely came home. She started smoking her cigarettes on the street so the cameras would see her, and started dropping hints about her sex life with her older boyfriend, one of the guys from "That 70's Show." She signed a record contract with Universal rather than Disney. In the fall of 2004, Lindsay said yes to two projects at once, and suddenly, everything changed for her. At age 18, Lindsay spent her summer shooting one last Disney film, "Herbie: Fully Loaded" while recording her first album in her trailer so it could be rush-released for the holidays. No longer a minor, Lohan was obligated to work fourteen-hour days on the juvenile Disney comedy, while staying up all night writing and recording her album. Before long, Lindsay was in the hospital with exhaustion. Or was it an infected kidney? Or was it something else?
The press responded with a blitz of rumors. Previously, they had gone relatively easy on Lindsay. She had been spotted out at clubs in West Hollywood, barely old enough to buy a lottery ticket, but it hadn't been widely discussed. What the media had latched onto were her father's troubles. That fall, Michael Lohan ended up back in prison for violating Dina's restraining order and for crashing his car while fucked up on cocaine. He told the press that drugs were to blame for Lindsay's trip to Cedars-Sinai. Lindsay had always just kept working, trying not to let her father's irresponsibility upset her, but this time, it clearly did its damage.
Throughout the G-rated "Herbie: Fully Loaded," the male characters (and cars) who encircle Lindsay ogle her and comment on how pretty she is, but the truth is that she looks exhausted. There are visible bags under her eyes in some scenes, and most of the time, she seems to be reluctantly walking through the lackluster writing. She clearly didn't want to be there.