The dysfunctional family theme rises again in the three-generational comedy-drama, “Georgia Rule.” Unlike last year’s dysfunctional family movie, “Little Miss Sunshine” - an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture - “Georgia Rule” is sure to show up on this critic’s list of worst movies of the year.
The film opens with Rachel Wilcox (Lindsay Lohan) marching down a highway in Idaho. She and her mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), are having a battle about Lilly dumping Rachel at her grandmother’s to get her life in order. Lilly drives her car slowly following Rachel and begs her to get back in the car. When her distraught mom gives up and takes off, Rachel heads to her grandmother’s home in Hull, a strict Mormon town in Idaho. She stops for a nap on the side of the road and is awakened by Garrett Hedlund, a teenager immediately shaken by Rachel’s provocative and suggestive behavior.
Garrett quickly passes the brazen girl off to the town’s veterinarian, Simon (Dermot Mulroney), who gets roped into taking Rachel to Hull. When she comes on to him, the tone is set for the film, and it gets more bizarre as the minutes slowly tick by.
Grandma Georgia (Jane Fonda) and Rachel are immediately at odds with each other. Georgia, a God-fearing Mormon, has always had her rules, which she calls “Georgia Rule.” Rachel claims they were so rigid they drove her mom out of the house when she was younger. While some of Rachel’s barbs may hurt on the inside, Georgia maintains an iron demeanor and contends it’s Georgia’s Rules or out the door for Rachel.
Reluctantly, Rachel reports to the job Grandma found her and is surprised when it turns out she’ll be working as Simon’s summer assistant at his practice. Before long, she’s provocatively flaunting herself around town, swearing and lying about everything. In one scene, she even removes her underwear to entice the innocent and practically engaged Mormon believer Garrett to compromise everything he believes in.
This entire movie is a cliche, and some of it includes memorable scenes from other films. Every time Rachel would go one step further in her destructive, sexually explicit behavior, I kept thinking of today’s young teen actresses, whose lives seem out of control just like this character. I couldn’t help wondering if the script, which is rumored to have been around for some time, was changed to reflect this trend. There are so many of these reminders in the media, I certainly didn’t want to be held captive watching this behavior for another two hours.
A major subplot in “Georgia Rule” concerns Rachel’s constant lies. Instead of being an intriguing plot device that’s cleverly worked around a theme - in this instance, forgiveness, love and trust - it ends up being the plot. I felt like I was in a handball court being repeatedly smacked with the balls labeled “lie” or “truth.”
The biggest of these is when Rachel tries to get out of trouble by revealing to her grandma and mother that her stepfather, Arnold (Cary Elwes), molested her for several years. This brings mom back to grandma’s house. She’s heartbroken and turns to the bottle, apparently a crutch she’s relied on for some time. It also brings the wealthy Arnold to town. He denies the claim but offers to give Rachel his Ferrari “because he wants to forgive her for her accusation.” Sure, that makes sense!
Although there are a few laughs in the movie, they seem totally detached from this story. Most happen in Simon’s vet practice, which feels like a television sitcom. In addition to amusing animal happenings, Simon also treats people with their minor medical needs - much to Rachel’s horror. I wasn’t laughing, however, when Simon takes Rachel in because she’s mad at her grandmother, lets her sleep over and barely objects to her come-ons.
As shown in “Runaway Bride” and “Pretty Woman,” Garry Marshall excels at this type of movie, where life’s ups and downs form the most unlikely of relationships. His films are usually terrific in combining drama and comedy, but this didn’t happen in “Georgia Rule.”
Fonda’s role leaves little room for creativity, but I think she did the best she could. Lohan appeared to carry off her role well, yet I couldn’t help thinking of all the media coverage about her rebellious behavior during the film-making and off the set. Did she just show up and be herself? Felicity Huffman is a wonderful actress. However, I found her “poor me” attitude and her alcoholic tirades deficient, especially compared to her great work on “Desperate Housewives” and her mesmerizing take on a transsexual in “Transamerica.”
“Georgia Rule” wants to be a smart, funny movie about redemption and forgiveness, but none of the women in this film exhibited any of those noble qualities. Allow this critic to set a new rule: save your money on this one.