Georgia Rule isn’t a bad movie. It’s several bad movies in one, with a good movie trying to get out. And that makes it an annoyingly frustrating movie. There are three good performances from stars Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman. There’s solid—if not exactly exciting—direction from über-professional Garry Marshall. (Say what you will about most of Marshall’s pictures, he’s a reliable craftsman with a strong sense of color and the ability to deliver a good looking film, whether it’s Frankie and Johnny (1991) or The Princess Diaries (2001).) But then there’s this truly weird screenplay by Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets), and that’s where all the trouble lies.
Andrus starts from a pretty simple—even trite—Lifetime-movie premise: Rebellious teen Rachel (Lohan) is sent by desperate mother Lily (Huffman) to live with tough-as-nails grandma Georgia (Fonda) in Idaho (well, somebody has to live there). In theory, Georgia may be able to knock some sense into Rachel. At least the script has the good sense to point out that Georgia wasn’t able to do that with Lily, making the whole enterprise sketchy at best. It’s schmaltz to the nth degree waiting to turn into outright goo—and it will, complete with outbursts of cute.
However, Andrus—and presumably Marshall and the stars—want something more out of the movie than high-grade suds. They want SIGNIFICANCE. They want to address BIG ISSUES. So said big issues are trotted out, the biggest being child molestation, closely followed by the psychological damage of child molestation, alcoholism, the evils of casual sex, codependence etc. All this might have been fine, if only anyone had a clue what to do with it. And if anyone did, they didn’t tell Andrus. Rather than seriously dealing with these topics, he presents them and then proceeds to set them to rights with alarming ease. It’s not the issues that are at fault here—nor is it the fact that they’re in a film with a penchant for comedic outbursts. It’s the simple-mindedness of the solutions—something that can only be addressed by giving away aspects of the plot. So, if you’d rather be surprised and intend to see Georgia Rule, save the following till you’ve done so.
A couple samples of the simple-mindedness will suffice. Take Lily’s alcoholism. Huffman certainly plays the alcoholic well, but no sooner does she decide to quit drinking (because her daughter needs her and she loves her after all) than she does. Sure, she goes to her old boyfriend, Simon, a genial veterinarian who also treats people on the side (hey, it’s Idaho), and asks him to get her some Antabuse, but that’s it. In fact, the whole Antabuse business is never addressed again. Lily just sobers up. The trauma of Rachel having been sexually abused by smarmy stepdad Arnold (Cary Elwes) only needs father-figure Simon to refuse to have sex with her to make it all better. If only life were like this, things would be much simpler.
The plotting is often no better. The film would like to raise the question of whether or not Steppapa really did what Rachel claims, but waits so long to introduce the character that the dictates of screenwriting 101 tells us he’s a bad ‘un by the time he wanders into the movie. There’s also a distinct air of reactionary twaddle clinging to the proceedings. Take Rachel’s relationship with hunky Mormon high schooler Harlan (Garrett Hedlund, Eragon). His straight-arrow values (no drinking, no drugs, no smoking, no premarital sex—well, there was that unfortunate occurrence in the dinghy …) combined with Grandma’s no-nonsense Christianity (think Irma P. Hall in The Ladykillers as played by Jane Fonda) give the movie a creepy black-and-white sense of morality. They also imbue the film with a sense of self-loathing on the part of the big city folks who made the film, since they’re so convinced that evil doesn’t exist in Smalltown, U.S.A. Such a view actually telegraphs their own insular nature—and unless they all pack up and head for a small town in Idaho, it reeks of hypocrisy.
In the film’s favor, it’s never dull and the performances help. A few of the scenes actually work nicely: Rachel dealing with a deadbeat customer (Paul Williams) at the vet’s office and her threat of what she’s going to do if the judgmental posse of Mormon girls who spy on her and Harlan don’t stop. But they also suggest that the whole movie would have been more successful if it hadn’t tried to be so “important.” Rated R for sexual content and some language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke