Monday, May 21, 2007

Georgia Rule

GEORGIA RULE (Garry Marshall, 2007)

If teenage wild child Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) thinks she's going to do as she pleases while living with her grandmother Georgia (Jane Fonda) for the summer, she has another thing coming. Whether working to earn her stay or sucking on a bar of soap for muttering a blasphemy, Georgia expects her granddaughter to follow her house rules to the letter. For Rachel's mother Lilly (Felicity Huffman) the arrangement is a last ditch effort to straighten out the lying and reckless girl--or just ditch her. Lilly is more concerned about her marriage and what's at the bottom of the bottle than helping her daughter.

The Idaho town in GEORGIA RULE might as well be the end of the earth for Rachel, but it doesn't take long for her to spot the local stud and try to seduce him. Harlan (Garrett Hedlund) isn't like the other boys Rachel knows back home. The devout Mormon farmhand has a conscience and tries to behave in an upstanding manner. Harlan isn't the only guy to catch her eye. Rachel also works on enticing her employer, the hunky but morose veterinarian Simon (Dermot Mulroney).

Strange as it may sound, GEORGIA RULE is like a chick flick version of BLACK SNAKE MOAN, except Georgia doesn't chain Rachel to a radiator to cure her of her slutty, self-destructive ways. Georgia and Lazarus administer heaping doses of moral authority and compassion to help these wayward girls and bring about their own redemption. While BLACK SNAKE MOAN has the more outrageous premise, the exploitation film with heart feels more emotionally honest and believable than GEORGIA RULE'S rancid syrup.

The subject matter in GEORGIA RULE--sexual abuse and alcoholism, for starters--lends itself to drama, but Garry Marshall's tone deaf direction and Mark Andrus' sloppy script play it as comedy. This major miscalculation is compounded by keeping the truth about Rachel's allegations of paternal molestation shrouded in lies and jokes for much of the film. If she's being honest, then there's nothing funny about her confession. If she's lying, then she's even more repellent than she already seems.

In keeping with the image she's buffed in the tabloids (and during the production of this film), Lohan's Rachel comes across as an obnoxious brat with a rasp seasoned from whiskey-guzzling and chain-smoking. To be sure, her party girl isn't supposed to be appealing at first, but the film builds up so much ill will toward her that sympathy is hard to come by when it might be deserved.

For a film that is supposed to be generous to its characters, GEORGIA RULE contains a paucity of warmth for these damaged souls. Huffman's skittery performance as Lilly plays as the cartoonish bad mother with a drinking problem. Armchair psychology might explain how her daughter is following in her path, but it doesn't make either any more pleasant to be around or care about. At first the Mormon characters look to be the film's moral compasses, but Marshall mocks them, whether through the slow-witted Harlan or the gossipy clique clucking about Rachel's wickedness. Fonda emerges generally unscathed, perhaps because she plays the one person with any bearings. GEORGIA RULE sets out to save these women, but it sure has a funny way of doing it.

Grade: D-

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