Dir: Garry Marshall. US. 2007. 111mins.
Georgia Rule is a comedy about women that comes with stars and a mighty promise -that honesty and humor can heal the most bitter rifts that fray mother-daughter bonds over three generations.
The film, written and directed by men, aims at a trans-generational market of women represented by Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan. It's that huge coveted audience that clicks the remote from Oprah and The View to MTV and the E! Channel. Yet a clunky, preachy script and weak performances by three fine actresses will keep Georgia Rule from conquering that territory when it opens in the US this weekend.
Despite global Lohan-glut on the gossip channels and the Net, foreign interest in an American heartland chick-flick should be minimal, although Fonda may have a special pull on the public in Vietnam.
The comedy of dysfunction is set in Idaho, where rebellious Rachel (Lohan) is being taken by her alcoholic mother, Lily (Huffman) in the hope that her strict grandmother (whom Lily loathes), Georgia (Fonda), can set the girl straight.
En route, Rachel storms out of the Mercedes and is found asleep under a billboard by local hunk Harlan (Hedlund) and then driven into town by a handsome veterinarian (Mulroney), her mother's old beau. The trash-talking fille fatale gets a job with the vet (who also treats humans) and soon becomes a scandal in the docile hamlet.
Amid the proper Mormons, Fonda is a crusty disciplinarian who invokes each prohibition in her house as a 'Georgia Rule'. (She's clearly mining a familiar vein from Monster-In-Law.) Violators get soap in their mouths. It's clear that Lily's boozing and Rachel's stubbornness are the generational costs of her strictness.
Soon a new secret is out, as Rachel reveals that her stepfather, a high-powered San Francisco lawyer (Elwes), abused her since age 12. (Every politically correct fable needs an evil step-father) The women stop fighting each other and ready their claws for the abuser, only it's not clear whether volatile Rachel made the whole thing up.
Mark Andrus's script lurches from encounter to explosion in the generational tale. Lohan seduces Mormon Harlan in a rowboat (the local girls who watch call her a slut), tussles with her drunk mother and confronts the rich step-father, who tries to buy her off with a Ferrari.
Marshall's direction tends to put his characters on soapboxes (or just in type-cast boxes), first as they attack each other, and then as they forgive weepily- although the abusing heel does get his due. Fonda is unconvincing as an imperious matriarch, despite a Gorgon-esque stare.
On Golden Pond comes to mind as the actress, who played the wayward resentful daughter in that film, gives us her take on Henry Fonda's parental role in this one. She's had some great roles, but as the old saying goes, she's no Henry Fonda.
Huffman stumbles through Georgia Rule as a suffering drunk overwhelmed by her mother and daughter. Indeed the three female leads seem to be just what you see on the screen: three movie stars airlifted into a conservative Idaho town, with a lot on their minds and almost two hours in which to say it.
Yet Lohan enlivens the film to which she brought so much havoc during production. She can look radiant and peevish in a close-up, she can taunt men with the best of them, and when she walks defiantly down the street in revealing clothes (costumed by Gary Jones) that pious Mormons wouldn't think of wearing, you can feel the weight of the political/sexual divide in America (which Marshall, alas, soft-pedals.)
Georgia Rule also can't seem to integrate its domestic comedy with the dark seriousness of child rape, except to ensure that women's solidarity triumphs haltingly but decisively over male oppression. Darkness, to be fair, is foreign territory for Marshall, whose career has been in lite-ness.
The men in Andrus's script, predictably, are either dumb or destructive, or both, with soft Cary Elwes unbelievable as a predatory lawyer. The exception to the phallocratic rule is Mulroney's sensitive mensch of a vet (who's grieving quietly for his dead wife and child).
The exception to the script's predictability is that he doesn't marry Lilly once she ditches her predator husband and (one assumes) the booze. Are Marshall and Andrus saving that story for Georgia Rule 2'
Universal Pictures (most)
James G Robinson