Georgia Rule (2007) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and some language
Running time: 113 min.

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, Dermot Mulroney, Garrett Hedlund, Cary Elwes, Hector Elizondo, Laurie Metcalf, Paul Williams (cameo)
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenplay: Mark Andrus

Review published May 15, 2007

Lily (Huffman, The Spanish Prisoner) drives her delinquent, habitually-lying 17-year-old daughter, Rachel (Lohan, Chapter 27), to Idaho to stay with her strict grandmother, Georgia (Fonda, Monster-in-Law), in the hopes that she will learn to behave.  Rachel doesn't even behave on the way there, ditching her mother, meeting a young man named Harlan (Hedlund, Eragon) while walking on the way, finally hitching a ride with the town's veterinarian, Simon (Mulroney, Griffin & Phoenix).  When she finally gets there, the free-spirited Rachel has many adjustment issues with Georgia, who seemingly has a never-ending barrage of rules for her guests to live by.  One such rule is that she must work while staying with her, which she does with a job in Simon's office. 

While continuously butting heads with Georgia, Rachel is also making a name for herself around the small town, and not a good one, as she proceeds to try to seduce some of the local men there, some of whom are taken, while also dropping a bombshell that her relationship with her stepfather (Elwes, Pucked) may not have been just father-daughter.  It's make or break time for the family in terms of who to believe, and what they are going to do about the situation.

It's interesting to see a film made by such professionals in the world of "chick flicks" struggle so much to come up with so little in terms of entertainment for women here.  Director Garry Marshall has made his share of genre splashes for female viewers, most notably in hits like Pretty Woman, Raising Helen, The Princess Diaries, and Beaches.  He is working with an impressive equal in the screenwriting department with Mark Andrus, who has written almost exclusively from the heartbreak and romantic coping perspective, with entries like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Life as a House, and As Good As It Gets.  Add to this very potent creative partnership two award-winning actresses in Jane Fonda and Felicity Huffman, and a superstar actress in the making (provided she doesn't implode)) in Lindsay Lohan, and it would appear to be a recipe to sure success.

Sadly, successful the film is not.  Initially, Georgia Rule starts off in a typical "big city folk have trouble acclimating to small town life" formula, whereby the more seasoned Californians aren't quite in tune with the smaller, more homespun way of looking at things in the stereotypically country way.  For what it's worth, while these sorts of films are done quite often, the formula tends to work, as it is refreshing to see smaller tales done in whimsical fashion from time to time, and certainly, Georgia Rule has its share of interesting characters and points of view.

Alas, bigger things are in mind in Andrus' screenplay, dealing with such heady issues as sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, shattered trust, religious guilt, and promiscuity.  It's a tall order to make a comedy out of such issues, but that is the sort of film that is developing, and it actually could work, provided that we see the characters as well-rounded and complex people who can deliver heartfelt drama and breezy laughs whenever the times call for it.

Though the ensemble of actors have made their share of comedies and dramas, as well as the people behind the camera, what is sorely lacking is the sort of depth of characterizations required to make the leap from cute comedy to serious drama without leaving us behind in the process.  It's in this leap that Georgia Rule fails, as we not only don't buy these shallow characters as anything but stereotypical archetypes meant to push forward certain themes, but we also don't much like them.  We're supposed to feel sorry for those who have led a relatively loveless, unhappy life, and while we certainly aren't clamoring for anyone to die, per se, we also aren't terribly concerned with a happy outcome for any of them.  What we have is a shrewish grandmother, her alcoholic and largely negligent daughter, and a petulant slut granddaughter, none of whom seem to be overly concerned about anyone, including each other, until someone else comes in to do irreparable harm.

Perhaps there will be happiness for them all in the end, if they can be partnered up with the right kinds of guys, but that's also asking a great deal.  The men of the town are relatively normal and honest -- while it would be a happy ending to end up with these handsome and honorable men, it's not exactly a happy ending for these men to end up with women who have such egregious character flaws, is it?   My version of a happy ending would be for Harlan and Simon to come to the realization that they're completely content with who they are and what they have -- they don't need to settle for a couple of livewires to infect their daily existence just because they are attractive and available.  Run for the Idaho hills, my friends.

Despite a talented crew in front of, as well as behind the camera, Georgia Rule feels like a movie crafted with a great deal of uncertainty as to what ends it is trying to achieve.  Is it a light comedy or serious drama?  Is it a romance or a sex romp?  Is it a family film or is it for adults?  At no time are we ever quite sure, which is a sure indication that Marshall isn't quite sure either.  The cast seems equally undecided, as the actors sometimes feel as though they are forced together from different styles of movies, never quite appearing like they are working together on the same project in the same scene.  It certainly didn't help the production that the relationships were strained by Lohan and her off-set antics (based on the news reports, it sounds like she was always "in character"), which probably made the set a very tense and hostile place much of the time.  It's hard to create cast chemistry and consistency of tone when the actors lines aren't well rehearsed, the production halted and then rushed, and people are genuinely at each other's throats at the time Marshall yells "cut".

FDR once said, "Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are."  Therein lies the problem with Georgia Rule in a nutshell; it extols the virtues of rules, but it is anything but principled.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo