Georgia Rule (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The typical Garry Marshall film (Pretty Woman, Raising Helen) can be classified by a few words: contrived, insipid, and predictable. Georgia Rule, while not the worst work Marshall has done, is a limp misfire. There are moments during the course of the movie when it looks like it might be headed in an interesting direction, but those hopes go up in smoke during the last act as everything aligns itself for the tearful, feel-good ending. The central problem with the movie isn't that it deals with several hot-button topics, but that it addresses them with a shocking lack of emotional honesty.

Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) is one screwed-up 17-year old. She's so rebellious that her mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), has driven her from San Francisco to Idaho so she can spend the summer with her strict, God-fearing grandmother, Georgia (Jane Fonda). Georgia, we suspect, is from the school of "spare the rod, spoil the child." Lilly doesn't get along with her mother - it has been 13 years since they last met face-to-face, so it's a mystery why she thinks the "vacation" is going to work with Rachel. 20 miles from their destination, Rachel becomes so infuriated with her mother that she gets out of the car and starts walking. Eventually, she is picked up by the local veterinarian, Simon (Dermot Mulroney), who drives her to her destination.

The prickly interaction between girl and grandmother is predictable. Rachel brings with her the winds of trouble. She argues with Georgia, reluctantly agrees to work as Simon's receptionist, and goes out on a naughty fishing expedition with Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), a Mormon about ready to start his two years' of missionary work. For those wondering why Harlan is always smiling, consider what happens while he and Rachel are in a rowboat in the middle of a lake. It doesn't take long before Rachel drops a bombshell to explain why she is the way she is: her stepfather, Arnold (Cary Elwes), molested her starting at the age of 12. But is she telling the truth about this or lying to get back at the parents who exiled her to the middle of nowhere with a cranky grandmother for an entire summer?

That ambiguity is what makes parts of Georgia Rule interesting at times. When one considers how poisonous the accusation is, and that it might be issued as a means of revenge, it gives the film a bit of an edge. Unfortunately, "edgy" is not one of the three nouns I used above to describe a Marshall endeavor. Eventually, things are resolved definitively and in a manner that's far too pat for a movie with this many deeply troubled characters. At a minimum, Rachel is in desperate need of counseling, but in a Garry Marshall movie, all that's needed to set her right are a hug and a tearful apology. If it was this easy to reconcile dysfunctional families, we would all be living happily ever after.

I have to admit that Lindsay Lohan is credible as a sexually promiscuous, spoiled brat. Typecasting? Whatever the case, when she's being petulant and raunchy, she's on target. The scenes where she fails to convince are those that require her to be penitent or sweet. It's a little strange, though, knowing the actress' off-screen reputation and seeing how well it dovetails with Rachel's persona. Art imitates life when Rachel wears a skirt sans underpants and lets a guy look up it (although he doesn't have a camera).

As the grumpy old grandma with the heart of gold, Jane Fonda at least is given a less embarrassing role than the one she was saddled with in Monster-in-Law. This isn't what one would consider challenging or interesting, though. Felicity Huffman gets to look a little more glamorous than in Transamerica - at least until late in the movie when she chops her locks and falls off the wagon in typical Hollywood fashion. The three males - Dermot Mulroney, Cary Elwes, and Garrett Hedlund - are on hand more to move the plot forward than because they're interesting characters.

Marshall is a crafter of fairy tales and trusting him with material that demands a darker tone and a defter hand is a mistake. Not that Mark Andrus' script is well-written. The dialogue is mostly awful, a subplot featuring a bunch of spying girls is painful, and the ending is unacceptable. But Marshall's involvement does nothing to improve upon the screenplay. Georgia Rule will most likely be recalled as the movie that resulted in Morgan Creek CEO James G. Robinson rebuking Lohan for her poor work ethic. There's certainly nothing else about the production worth remembering.

Georgia Rule (United States, 2007)

Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, Felicity Huffman, Dermot Mulroney, Cary Elwes, Garrett Hedlund
Screenplay: Mark Andrus
Cinematography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Music: John Debney
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 2007-05-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1