Georgia Rule stars Lindsay Lohan as Rachel, a promiscuous party girl whose behaviors are so out of control that her alcoholic mother Lilly (Felicity Huffman) drops her off in a small Idaho town. She is to move in with her grandmother Georgia (Jane Fonda), a woman whose no-nonsense, by-the-book attitude did her no favors when it came to the relationship with her own daughter. We get a sense early on that part of this family’s psychological makeup involves women fighting bitterly with their mothers. Georgia’s approach is to make Rachel wash her mouth out with soap for using profanity and get a job working for the town vet, Simon (Dermot Mulroney), who is mourning the death of his wife and child.
Rachel has plans other than maturity. She makes it a priority to seduce Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), an innocent Mormon who is about to leave for two years of missionary work. His ideals tell him he should resist, but Rachel proves to be a hard temptation to avoid. Georgia is horrified by her granddaughter’s actions, but she’s even more horrified when Rachel drops the bombshell that her stepfather has been sexually abusing her for years. This revelation is enough to bring Lilly back to Idaho and also to make her boozing worse. She wants to believe that there’s an explanation for her daughter’s troubles, but she doesn’t want to think that her husband (whom she loves dearly) could do such a thing. Trying to deal with the issue ends up forcing the three generations of women to confront their own attitudes about each other.
There is a heavy current of sexuality that runs through Georgia Rule. In addition to dealing with incest, the film also deals in sexual politics. For instance, Rachel, who enjoys getting a rise out of men when she wants to, is revolted when an adolescent boy becomes aroused while wrestling her in the front yard of her grandmother’s house. Later, she wields her sexual power in front of some teenage bullies, threatening to seduce their boyfriends if they don’t leave her alone. That they take this threat seriously is an indication of how convincing she is. There’s also an ongoing question of whether the lonely Simon will take advantage of her out of desperation. I give the movie some credit for the things it does right, and its openness in exploring the issues of sexual dysfunction, abuse, and manipulation is one of those things. Sex is often used callously in movies, as though it were an act with no consequence. Georgia Rule at least knows that sex is not an empty gesture. It grasps the idea that sex, as Pat Benatar sang back in the 80’s, is sometimes a weapon. There’s no small amount of bravery in being willing to tackle these issues on screen.
The film also interestingly deals with alcoholism, family feuding, and the kind of self-delusion that allows people to convince themselves they are happy even when they secretly know that everything is hopelessly messed up. There is a scene – beautifully acted by Felicity Huffman – where Lilly confesses that she believes her daughter’s molestation claim and her husband’s declaration of innocence at the same time. What is a person to do under these circumstances? Lilly asks herself which belief will allow her to live happily, knowing that each one also comes with a cost.
Huffman is great, and so is Fonda, and so too is Lindsay Lohan. I had every intention of writing this review without making mention of Lohan’s tabloid-friendly partying habits and family scandals. Nor did I want to mention that the film’s producer, James Robinson, publicly chastised the actress for letting her partying interfere with her timeliness on set. But I find that I must mention those things for one reason: Lohan knows something about what her character is going through and she brings that knowledge to her performance. Rachel’s pain and confusion feel very authentic. For whatever personal problems Lohan has had, she gives a performance that marks a highlight in her career.
As I said, Georgia Rule definitely gets some things right. Here’s where it goes wrong, though: the characters in the film have deep, dark problems. They are the kind of problems that have caused years of dysfunction, low self-esteem, and in-fighting. They are messy, complicated problems with no easy way out. And yet, this is one of those movies where the characters only need someone to hug them and say “I love you” in order for those problems to go away. The resolution of all their struggles seems insanely simplistic. I don’t expect screenwriter Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets) to have magical solutions, but it’s hard to buy into the quick-fix answers the script provides. Do I believe that Georgia can reunite with her daughter, that Lilly can kick the booze, and that Rachel can find self-acceptance without needing to rely on her body? Yes, but it would take a lot more for these characters to heal than we see here.
Some of the blame for that must also go to director Garry Marshall. Nothing personal against the man – he’s made some movies I’ve really liked (as well as some I’ve hated) – but he is the wrong director for this material. Marshall specializes in light, airy, feel-good movies like The Princess Diaries and Runaway Bride (not to mention Pretty Woman). He is not so well-suited to such dark material because his style always lets you know that there is a safety net. For a picture that deals with alcoholism and sexual abuse, Georgia Rule is an awfully cheery movie. I wonder if it would have had more power had it been directed by someone not afraid to dangle us over the dark pit of emotions. One can only speculate what Steven Soderbergh or Thirteen’s Catherine Hardwicke would have done with this material.
Ultimately, Georgia Rule falls somewhere in that nebulous zone between liking and disliking. There is enough to admire here that you may agree it’s worth a look. At the same time, the film doesn’t emotionally satisfy as strongly as it should. One thing’s clear though: this is Lohan’s picture, and she walks away with it.
( 1/2 out of four)
Georgia Rule is rated R for sexual content and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Georgia Rule
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