Georgia Rule: Marshall’s Chick Flick, Starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, Lindsay Lohan

Representing different generations, three talented actresses, Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, and Lindsay Lohan, are wasted in the new chick flick directed by Garry Marshall (“The Princess Diaries,” Pretty Woman”).
The movie seems unable to decide if it’s a comedy or drama, and whether the young protag is telling the truth or lying about sexual abuse by her stepfather.
End result is a contrived, convoluted picture that’s not even good enough as TV-Movie-of-the-Week.

For various reasons, it took over a decade to bring the story to the big screen, and, indeed, Mark Andrus’s screenplay feels old-fashioned and outdated, propagating middle-brow therapeutic sensibility about mothers and daughters, trust and love that are conditioned by biological instincts and social circumstances.

An embarrassing film on all fronts, “Georgia Rule” is also a dubious choice for Mother’s Day, since neither Fonda nor Hoffman play women who are particularly good mothers; I know that’s the lesson of the picture. What a waste of talent, in front and behind the camera.

“Georgia Rule” is meant to be a positive message film about the power of redemption, the freedom in forgiveness, the unbreakable bonds of motherhood, but there is such a gap between the film’s honorable intent and actual level of execution that you have a level of discomfort, not to mention, the disbelief in the credibility of the film as both a sociological and cinematic project.

Vacillating between a poorly written TV sitcom and a poorly staged melodrama, “Georgia Rule” never finds its right tone. That audiences are always ahead of the story in terms of who to believe in or root for only makes things worse. Then, there is a problem with the ending, which feels as if it were tucked upon the story after the original movie was shot. (A colleague who read the shooting script says that initially one of the key characters got killed in a car accident).

And the story It’s a reworking of what might be described as a female version of “Rebel With a Cause.” (This is not a typo; I know that the James Dean mythic picture is “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Rebellious teenager Rachel (played by enfant terrible Lindsay Lohan, who went to rehab after the shoot, which she interrupted due to partying and overdosing of drugs) screams, swears, and drinks–she is in a word what psychologists call uncontrollable. With her latest car crash, Rachel has broken the final rule in the book of her mom’s Lilly (Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman, for “Transamerica”) at their San Francisco’s home.

With nowhere else to take the impulsive and rambunctious girl, Lilly hauls her daughter to the one place she swore she would never return, the Idaho farm of her estranged mother, Georgia. In the first scene, mother and daughter are endlessly bickering, after which Rachel storms out of the car. Rachel finds her way and lands at Georgia’s place on her own.

The matriarchal Georgia (two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda) is not your typical sweet and doting grandma. She lives her live by a number of unbreakable rules, demanding anyone who shares her home to do the same. God comes first and hard work comes a close second, though early on, she uses the F-word once. When people misbehave, Georgia threatens to stick soap in their mouths, and on occasion, she uses a broom too to kick a deviant’s ass.

Saddled with raising Rachel, Georgia gradually realizes that she needs extreme patience to understand her granddaughter’s fury. As Rachel succumbs to her summer of misery, shaking up the tiny Mormon town, Georgia notices something is changing within her granddaughter. Given structure and responsibilities, Rachel is letting her guard down, eventually learning compassion, especially for her mother, a masochistic woman burdened with low-esteem and a drinking problem–TV-style, I might add, because we see the clich of lots of hidden empty bottles under her bed.

“Georgia Rule” is meant to be a journey of self-discovery for three generations, one that leads three vastly different women to revelations of self and other, disclosure of buried family secrets, and ultimately an understanding that, regardless what happens, the ties that bind can never be broken.

Problem is, for half of the overlong movie, the tale goes back and forth in its approach toward the grave issue of child molestation and abuse. Is Rachel telling the truth when she confides that her stepfather Arnold (Cary Elwes, miscast) molested her for two years, from 12 to 14, without her mother’s knowledge of slight suspicion. She herself goes back and forth, first expressing her charge, then denying it, then reasserting it. There’s also the question of motivation: Is Rachel doing it to get back at her mother, manipulate her Or is she just a misfit in desperate need of maternal love, care, and attention

Of the three thespians, only Lohan acquits herself honorably even if her part is incoherently constructed. The film’s worst scenes depict how Rachel is ostracized by the conservative community when the rumor spreads that she’s a “slut.” The town’s nosy girls follow Rachel wherever she goes, and at one point, she literally chases them with her car and confronts them head-on.

TV’s Felicity Huffman comes across as the worst of the lost, perhaps because she plays a desperate, masochistic housewife, who will do anything to keep her man. Her big drunk scene, preceded by cutting her hair, is so poorly written and acted that you feel like closing your eyesand ears. Drinking scenes used to be a staple in women’s picture that Davis and Crawford made back in the 1930s and 1940s, and Huffman’s got to be one of the worst ever seen.

There’s also a level of discomfort in the work of Jane Fonda, who continues a comeback trend that began in 2005 with “Monster-in-Law,” a project badly chosen after 15 years absence for the one think that the gifted Fonda cannot do is broad, campy comedy. Does Fonda need the money or to be back in the public eye One of the smartest, most alert women around, does she really believe in what she is given to say Pushing 70, Fonda looks terrific, and when the camera zooms in on her lovely face and blue eyes, she brings to mind her father Henry Fonda and his clear blue eyes.

In more than one scene, “Georgia Rule” bears resemblance to “On Golden Pond,” the 1981 Oscar-winning film that Jane had produced for her father, and not just because of its three-generational saga and the closer affinity between grandchildren to their grandparents rather than parents. Yet as sentimental as schmaltzy as “Golden Pond” was, it was a better picture, and at least the performances were good.

Carelessly directed by Marshall, “Georgia Rules” finds its only comic relief in the office of the sensitive veterinarian Simon (played by Dermot Mulroney in a thankless role), a widower who used to date Lilly and is now attracted to Rachel (she takes shelter in his house for a while), but is too petrified to make a move-any move. Here, too, the film titillates the audience with scenes of come-on (Lohan in underwear or out of the shower) that are incoherent and don’t pay off. Rachel is a good girl, who pretends to be bad, and all she needs is a paternal embrace…..

“Georgia Rule” is clearly a chick flick for there are not many male roles and, worse, with no exception, the few men all play stereotypical characters, from Harlan (Garrett Hedlund),
the handsome, virginal blond Mormon, who gets a blow job from Rachel on a boat, to her creepy stepfather, played by Cary Elwes, who is burdened with some of the yarn’s most impossible lines.

The least said about this picture the better. Stay away, and if you feel like doing something really nice on Mother’s Day, visit your mom.

Cast

Georgia (Jane Fonda)
Rachel (Lindsay Lohan)
Lilly (Felicity Huffman)
Simon (Dermot Mulroney)
Arnold (Cary Elwes)
Harlan (Garrett Hedlund)

Credits:

Running time: 111 minutes

MPAA rating: R

James G. Robinson presents a Morgan Creek production
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenwriter: Mark Andrus
Producers: James G. Robinson, David Robinson
Executive producers: Guy McElwaine, Michael Besman, Kevin Reidy
Camera: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production designer: Albert Brenner
Music: John Debney
Co-producer: Bonnie Timmermann
Costume designer: Gary Jones
Editors: Bruce Green, Tara Timpone