Lindsay Lohan's return to movies is a positive sign for child stars

With new movies on the horizon, we're seeing a new version of Lindsay Lohan who is at peace with herself and knows what she wants. What can current child stars learn from her example?

2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones - Arrivals
2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Radhika Jones - Arrivals / Taylor Hill/GettyImages

Lindsay Lohan began her public career at the age of 3, when she was signed to Ford Models. This was the start of a life in the spotlight, which would have been enough to drive nearly anybody insane. At 12, she appeared as both leads in The Parent Trap, sending her from being a familiar face to a globally-recognized superstar.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the teenage brain may be done growing, but it's actually in a very fragile place. From around 13 until a person's mid-20s, their brain is incredibly sensitive to the world around them, growing and adapting based on the circumstances they are in. Just think what kind of messages a person receives when they find fame that young.

After the success of Mean Girls in 2004, the 17 year old starlet faced an unreasonable amount of public scrutiny, from being tailed by the paparazzi to having her every move judged by the media. As has happened with so many other young stars, there were multiple Internet sources counting down the days until she was "legal" to sleep with.

Everyone was watching and waiting to see when Lohan would slip up. And she did. But now, twenty years later, we are getting the chance to see her find her way again, on her own terms. Lindsay Lohan's return to films is heartening, as it potentially provides a model for other child stars to follow so they don't have to face the same harassment she did.

Lindsay Lohan
2008 MTV Movie Awards - Arrivals / Steve Granitz/GettyImages

The inevitable fall from grace

Both because of the pressure of her high-profile career and the disgusting interest from the public, Lindsay Lohan quickly fell into a downward spiral. But instead of being met with sympathy and concern, many people relished in the opportunity to tear apart a young woman who had already made more money than many people would in a lifetime — even if she was just 18.

From 2004 to 2008, she had an average of four projects released each year. Somehow, this was seen not as impressive, but as proof of laziness. She began indulging in drug and alcohol use, frequently being photographed partying.

After a brief hospitalization during the filming of the movie Georgia Rule, Morgan Creek Production's CEO James G. Robinson sent her a letter stating, "We are well aware that your ongoing all night heavy partying is the real reason for your so-called ‘exhaustion.' ... You have acted like a spoiled child and in so doing have alienated many of your co-workers and endangered the quality of this picture."

He later asked her on a date, despite being 50 years her senior.

It seemed like she was being judged by an unreasonable standard. As she told Vanity Fair, "These were my college years, but they were in the public eye. I was irresponsible. I was experimenting. I was doing certain things that people do 10 times more of when they’re in college."

She was certainly making bad decisions. Nobody will deny that. Yet, it seemed like the general belief was that she deserved any and all consequences that were heading her way.

Lohan began to show clear signs of suffering from an eating disorder, yet few people seemed concerned. Her father began publicly mocking her, in response to her speaking about his abusive behaviors. Rather than trying to support her, however, those in her life seemed more interested in tearing her down.

Her career began to crumble, as studios claimed that she was too much of a liability to hire. She focused on her music career, with most of her filmed appearances being guest roles. Yet, despite multiple respected actors speaking out about her talent, the public was unwilling to see her as anything other than a disappointment.

Lindsay Lohan
Art Biennale Party At The St Regis Venice San Clemente Palace Hosted By Mr. Emir Uyar / Daniele Venturelli/GettyImages

Lindsay Lohan's "private" years

From 2010 to 2021, Lindsay Lohan seemed to disappear from the entertainment industry. She went from making multiple movies a year to only a handful of credits, most of which were cameos or off screen work. This left many fans wondering why she had stopped making movies.

The answer is a combination of her legal troubles, her reputation in the entertainment industry, and her own decision to switch directions with her career.

Although Lohan was sentenced to serve time in jail at least four times, she frequently managed to avoid her full sentence thanks to overcrowding issues. However, she did spend several years on probation, which limited her ability to travel and disrupted film schedules.

For the first half of the 2010s, Lohan tried to keep her career alive, though her projects were met with generally negative reviews. All the while, she faced criticism for being difficult to work with. The New York Times Magazine released an article titled " Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie," which effectively disparaged Lohan for pages on end.

With few other options, Lohan had to consider other ways to move forward as a performer. She made her stage debut in October 2014, with the West End production of Speed-the-Plow. While this didn't create a new career path for the star, it showed her that there were other ways to use her talent besides acting in films.

One of the biggest results of this was Lohan's shift to television. While her reality TV offerings, like her docuseries Lohan and business-focused series Lindsay Lohan's Beach Club, didn't attract much attention, she did find success as a season regular on Rupert Grint's dark comedy Sick Note and as the narrator for Lovestruck High.

Along with trying different kinds of performing, Lohan got involved in the business world and moved abroad. As she shared with W Magazine, she moved to Dubai because, "There’s a certain calmness that I find there. There’s no paparazzi, no cameras ... I do really appreciate having the life where I can just go outside and not have to worry."

Since taking time away from Hollywood, Lohan's life has come together. She told TheHoward Stern Show in 2019 that she was back on good terms with both of her parents. She got married to Bader Shammas and had a son. Overall, Lohan's years away from the film industry may have been forced on her, but it allowed her to explore different ways of living and learn what kind of scripts she enjoyed working on.

Chord Overstreet, Lindsay Lohan, Olivia Perez, George Young
Netflix’s Falling For Christmas Celebratory Holiday Fan Screening with Cast & Crew / Bryan Bedder/GettyImages

Why is Lohan returning to film now?

In 2022, Lindsay Lohan made her first major film in a decade: Netflix's Falling for Christmas. Then, Netflix announced that Lohan had signed on for two other movies with them: Irish Wish (releasing on March 15, 2024) and Our Little Secret (release date unknown). Shortly after these announcements, The Hollywood Reporter learned that Lohan would also be returning to Disney to film the sequel to Freaky Friday alongside Jamie Lee Curtis.

It certainly seems to be a renaissance for Lohan, but the question on everybody's minds is: why now?

There seem to be a few possible answers to this question, but the biggest is that people are finally giving her a chance. With a decade out of the spotlight, Lohan can finally rely on her talent again without being viewed as a liability.

During the press tour for Falling for Christmas, Lohan shared how much she had missed the movie industry: "I wanted to make this movie because I missed being on set and I really miss bringing characters to life, and this was just the perfect script full of love and family and romance and joy all in one."

In addition, the cultural landscape has changed. Rather than constantly looking for a way to tear celebrities down, we have seen the rise of understanding fanbases, willing to fight for their favorites. The #FreeBritney movement was obviously one of the greatest examples of this, but Lohan has also been viewed more sympathetically in recent years.

During the 2019 CNN New Year's Eve special, Lohan shared that she was looking forward to "taking back the life that I worked so hard for." Although her plans were delayed by Covid-19, her return to the screen finally seems within reach.

Now that she has had some time to get her life under control and earn back her colleagues' respect, doors are opening. So far, Netflix is the first company willing to seriously stake their reputation on the returning actress. As the company's Director of Independent Film said:

"We’re so happy with our collaboration with Lindsay to date, and we’re thrilled to continue our partnership with her. We look forward to bringing more of her films to our members around the world."

Christina Rogers

If Netflix continues to be happy with Lohan's contributions, it seems likely that other companies will jump on board sooner rather than later. Netflix defined the next few years as the "Lindsay Lohan-aissance," and it seems like that vision is really coming true.

Lindsay Lohan
MTV EMAs 2018 - VIP Arrivals / Dave J Hogan/GettyImages

Is there still time for Lindsay Lohan to be a role model for current child stars?

While the world has changed drastically for young child stars, there are still many tragic stories, particularly for female celebrities. The combination of money, youthful rebelliousness, and ruthless paparazzi is incredibly hard to juggle in a healthy way. But perhaps Lindsay Lohan's step away from the film industry (and subsequent return) can be a helpful model for other child stars.

It's not uncommon to find that early fame is destructive, with multiple prominent celebrities falling victim to drug use and other forms of self harm. The entertainment industry was just as dangerous for Disney star Bobby Driscoll in the 1940s and 1950s as it is for those coming up in that environment today. But female child stars frequently have it worse, in large part because of their oversexualization.

While Lindsay Lohan couldn't even age without intense media scrutiny, Leonardo DiCaprio has openly talked about how his partying was not being watched. According to him, "It was pre-TMZ. I got to be wild and nuts, and I didn’t suffer as much as people do now, where they have to play it so safe that they ruin their credibility."

DiCaprio attributed this to entering his teenage years just before the paparazzi took over the world, but it's hard to see it as just being a matter of timing. Think of all the young women who were chewed up by the media and spit back out—from Marilyn Monroe to Amy Winehouse to Lindsay Lohan herself.

In almost every case, women who began their careers early either went through a "troublemaker" phase or stepped away from the entertainment altogether. Those who tried to transition into adulthood in the entertainment industry frequently exhibited self-destructive behaviors and were scorned for it. Those who left to get an education or pursue other fields tended to find a very welcoming atmosphere upon their return.

While some recent stars have been able to successfully transition from childhood to adulthood (Zendaya being the prominent example), most still find that a break from the industry or at least a shift in genre is necessary to give people the chance to see them differently.

Jojo Siwa followed Zendaya's lead by using Dancing with the Stars as a transition phase, but she also felt the need to prove herself as more than a spoiled child by going on Special Forces: World's Toughest Test. Emma Roberts was able to be seen as an adult only by transitioning into the horror genre.

Lindsay Lohan's return to film is exciting for her fans, but it also shows that a break doesn't have to be the end of a young woman's career. In her missing decade, Lohan was able to get her health in order, learn who she was, and dedicate herself to work that she cared about.

While discussing her podcast, "The Loh-down," she explained the value she felt she provided for her guests:

"I think that with age comes knowledge and I think that I’ve learned a lot over the years and I feel more comfortable in my own skin at this time in my life to discuss with people. I’ve experienced so much that I have a lot more to offer in a conversation with someone and people that are younger in the world right now, where I can interview them but I also have something to offer to the conversation and much wiser perspective."

Lindsay Lohan

As the next generation of young women take the step from child star to adult actress, it may be worth looking at Lohan as both a cautionary tale and a model for how to come back from the struggles of growing up in the spotlight.

Nobody wants to see another generation of women dying from drug overdoses, forced into conservatorships, or shut out of the industry by the very same people who profited off of their worst behaviors. We can only hope that Lohan's upcoming movies truly do spark a new era in her career, one that other child stars can use as a guide for how to survive stardom without losing everything.

Lindsay Lohan stars in Irish Wish, a new film debuting on Netflix on March 15, 2024.

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