2007Director: Gary Marshall
Cast: Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, Lindsay Lohan
n some circles, the very presence of a tabloid starlet as consummate as Lindsay Lohan is enough to mark a film for certain death. Such actresses—suddenly that word seems dangerously loaded, but yes, they are usually actresses—are so fervently detested that even their successes are considered incidental to rather than indicative of their involvement.
I won’t argue that Lohan is more famous for her celluloid presence than her preeminence on The Superficial, but, as with any good backlash, there has to be some reasoned bystanders. True, we’re reading about her this week because someone with a camera phone caught her doing a line on tape (or was that last week?), not because her unexpectedly bleak new movie Georgia Rule got hammered by critics and at the box office. But recall that we know the name Lindsay Lohan because once upon a time, there was a sweet red-headed kid with promise doing doubles in The Parent Trap. And it was just last year, mind you, that she landed a stint opposite Meryl Streep and a bevy of vaunted talent in A Prairie Home Companion, which turned out to be the final project of one of the great American filmmakers. It’s not just me who remembers those Disney remakes.
So it is with only slight trepidation that I confess to be something of a Lohan enthusiast, as cringe-worthy as such a designation has become. She was born the same summer as yours truly, after all, and as such it’s easier to forgive her well-documented indulgences, if only because I doubt I’d hold up any better under the circumstances. No, but really, I think she’s pretty good, and yes, that probably has something to do with the fact that Georgia Rule grew on me as it went along.
The film isn’t the sunny cross-generational hug-fest the advertisements promise, which is likely more to blame for its failure than its critical thumping (or, for that matter, its star). It does offer the dubious threesome of Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lohan as three tiers of a family’s troubled women, but as it happens the separations between them are considerably more sinister than the maternal overdrive convention might dictate. Sexual abuse with a side of alcoholism are on the plate, and they’re all the more unsettling in a movie with parallel gags featuring ravenous Mormon girls and an old lady who uncontrollably wets a diaper.
Yeesh. Let’s come back to that. Lohan is Rachel, a Cali girl as only seen in the movies. Mom (Huffman) banishes her increasingly unstable party girl to live with her estranged grandma (Fonda, the Georgia of the title) for her last summer before college. Rachel puts up the requisite protests, but it’s just the same, really, since it’s not a week before she’s parading around town in short shorts and a piece of fabric wrapped around her chest and getting it on with a local (the painfully earnest Garrett Hedlund). A self-professed virgin preparing to go on a two-year mission for the Mormon church, he smiles bashfully when she takes off her panties in a canoe one pristine country afternoon and asks if he wants to cop a feel, but there’s an air of victimization to the proceedings as well, a supremely ham-fisted signal of things to come.
It’s not really a spoiler to reveal that Rachel accuses her stepfather (Cary Elwes) of molestation. In fact, it’s kind of a favor, since the movie drops its bomb so suddenly that missing a single line of dialogue could alter your entire perspective of the movie. As news of the accusation spreads, the customary generational tensions come to a convenient head, but the movie never comes to terms with the thematic implications such a possibility raises. There’s awkward comedy scattered between emotional and raw admissions between characters, and there’s a drawn-out and deeply problematic subplot about “the right thing to do” in Rachel’s situation. Either the filmmakers want to make it clear that these characters are capable of monumental stupidity or the screenwriter Mark Andrus, who proved with his script for Life as a House that he doesn’t mind doing a dance around the consequences of predatory sex, still just doesn’t get it. It’s probably a little of both.
Deftly navigating through the screenplay’s excesses and the director Garry Marshall’s (Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries) trained eye for sentimentality, the three stars of Georgia Rule are predictably what elevate the material. And, yes, most of that credit belongs to Lohan, who carries the brunt of the often disastrous creative misdirection. She takes a character of sturdy archetypes and makes something believable, even honest of it, particularly in her flighty interactions with the Idahoan locals. Fonda is wry and on point, which is all her part asks or will allow, and Huffman, despite her obvious miscasting, puts on a serviceable face as the resident alcoholic caught in the center of the film’s varied crises.
However pronounced Georgia Rule’s missteps—and they are admittedly not small ones—the actresses at its heart do well at not only selling the movie but making it easy to like. They can only do so much to get around the film’s strained identity, its fleeting sense of humor and curious dash of pathos, but the actors serve as welcome guides who progress the story when the filmmakers seem incapable.
And there’s always the extra panache that, for better or worse, accompanies Lohan, who to boot does a veiled caricature of the very persona that nearly got her sued by a producer for her behavior on the set of this movie. Cheap entertainment, maybe, but I’ll take it.
Georgia Rule is currently playing in wide release.