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Lindsay Lohan Gives a Standout Performance in Otherwise Lightweight Irish Wish

Lohan in a scene from Netflix's <i>Irish Wish</i> Credit - Courtesy of Netflix

Irish Wish, directed by Janeen Damian and starring Lindsay Lohan as a lovelorn book editor who’s granted one fateful wish during a trip to Ireland, is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a lightweight dream-fulfillment fantasy set against a sigh-inducing landscape of dramatic cliffs and tranquil, emerald-tone rolling hills. There’s also an old-school family estate home thrown in, the kind of million-room mansion that always looks so pristine and elegant in the movies but is, in real life, almost impossible to keep bright and warm and dry. These familiar elements aren’t liabilities, but rather selling points, especially in the realm of Netflix romances—and that’s what Irish Wish, unapologetically, is. But the movie’s biggest draw, for good reasons and perhaps some unsavory ones, is probably Lindsay Lohan, who has in recent years reinvented herself as a romantic-comedy heroine.

And why not? As a child and young adult, Lohan was one of the most gifted actors of her generation, a charmer with crackerjack timing in movies like The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday. A little later, as awkward-teen-turned-hotshot Cady Heron in the original Mean Girls, she captivated not just teenage audiences but pretty much anyone who’d ever been to high school. It was nearly impossible to dislike Lohan as a performer, though it wasn’t long before her highly public substance-abuse issues, her troubled relationship with her parents, and her overall erratic behavior made her an object of fascination even among those who’d never seen her in a movie.

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That prurient scrutiny damaged her career: many were still mocking her in 2013, when she gave a haunting, scraped-raw performance in Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, as a young woman in Hollywood who's entangled with a manipulative film-producer boyfriend. Both the picture and the performance have since been reconsidered by people who care about movies. At the time, though, it was much more fashionable—and easier—to deride Lohan as a bad actress, though Schrader knew exactly what he was doing. Around the time of the movie’s release, he noted, in Film Comment, the similarities he saw between Lohan and Marilyn Monroe: "Tardiness, unpredictability, tantrums, absences, neediness, psychodrama—yes, all that, but something more, that thing that keeps you watching someone on screen, that thing you can't take your eyes off of, that magic, that mystery. That thing that made John Huston say, 'I wonder why I put myself through all this, then I go to dailies.'"

Ed Speleers, Elizabeth Tan, Lindsay Lohan, Ayesha Curry, and Alexander Vlahos in <i>Irish Wish</i><span class="copyright">Courtesy of Netflix</span>
Ed Speleers, Elizabeth Tan, Lindsay Lohan, Ayesha Curry, and Alexander Vlahos in Irish WishCourtesy of Netflix

The Canyons didn’t reignite Lohan’s career, though in the years since she has been working in television and in small movie roles (she had a cameo in the recent Mean Girls remake). Irish Wish is the second film she has made with Damian: the first was the 2022 romantic comedy Falling for Christmas, about an heiress who suffers from amnesia after a skiing accident, resulting in an unlikely romance. There are people, it seems, who want to see Lohan—now in her mid-thirties—playing these types of roles, and why not? As a teenage actress, her eager wistfulness made her easy to relate to, and that’s something that hasn’t changed.

In Irish Wish, Lohan’s Maddie Kelly has fallen for the guy whose first novel she helped shape, the rakish Irishman Paul Kennedy (Alexander Vlahos); the strong suggestion is that she pretty much rewrote the book. Still, she’s nuts about him, and she wants him to love her back. Instead, he falls for one of her closest friends, the sweet but vapid Emma (Elizabeth Tan), and the two quickly become engaged. The wedding is to be held at Paul’s family estate in Ireland—that’s where the huge, pristine country house comes in—so Maddie and her pals hop across that large body of water so adorably known as “the pond” for the nuptials. Maddie still carries a torch for Paul, though she knows she shouldn’t. So when a winsome, wish-granting mythical being—turns out it’s Saint Brigid, played by Dawn Bradfield—springs out of nowhere and offers to grant Maddie a wish, she expresses her suppressed dream that she would be the one to marry Paul.

Lohan plays Maddie Kelly in <i>Irish Wish</i><span class="copyright">Courtesy of Netflix</span>
Lohan plays Maddie Kelly in Irish WishCourtesy of Netflix

Of course, as we’ve already seen, Paul is arrogant and self-centered and all wrong for her. Mr. Right, it turns out, is James, an enchantingly analytical English nature photographer played by Ed Speleers. But all this magical switcheroo plot nonsense is just a formality anyway: everyone who comes to Irish Wish—friend, foe or neutral observer—will have come for Lohan. What is she like? How does she do?

Lohan could probably deliver more than Irish Wish asks of her. In some ways, with her quizzically alert eyes and not-so-naïve smile, she looks too emotionally mature, too reasonable, to play a nearing-middle-aged woman swooning over an obvious semi-loser. (Paul, it turns out, isn’t really a bad guy, just opportunistic, self-centered, and clueless.) But there’s something both appealing and touching about this performance, even though it’s nothing close to a tour de force. Its casualness is what makes it so appealing. As a character, Maddie has been given some pretty rote traits: All her life she’s adored books, though, unsurprisingly enough, we never see her reading one. James Joyce is her favorite author—she sighs when photographer James brings her to look at the Cliffs of Moher (which, truly, do look pretty magnificent here).

Speleers and Lohan in a romantic moment<span class="copyright">Courtesy of Netflix</span>
Speleers and Lohan in a romantic momentCourtesy of Netflix

But what we’re looking at is an actor approaching middle age, playing a character who’s perhaps a bit younger, yet still unsure if she’ll ever find love. I don’t know how she does it, but Lohan makes us believe Maddie is a person who reads a lot of books, who really does love James Joyce but doesn’t advertise it because it’s private and dear information, a secret worth sharing only with potentially likeminded souls. As Maddie, Lohan still has traces of that eager, youthful wistfulness, but now it's tempered by something more sobering, an acknowledgment that rarely in life do things go exactly as we expect or hope. It's almost as if Lohan herself were trying to reclaim lost years, those in which she might have played this type of character as a younger woman. She plays Maddie as someone for whom you want the best. And sometimes that’s all you need a romantic-comedy heroine to be.

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