In Georgia Rule, Lilly (Felicity Huffman) has her hands full with her smart and troubled teen Rachel (Lindsay Lohan). Lilly hopes that a few summer weeks in Idaho with her grandmother, the rule-loving Georgia (Jane Fonda), will straighten Rachel out before she goes off to college. But alas, things don’t start off well. In the opening scene, Rachel walks alongside her mother’s fancy car after a fight screaming “Get out of my life!” Only later do we find out that a dark secret fuels her bad-girl antics.
It’s hard not to think about this scene in retrospect and wish that not only Lohan but the entire talented cast of Georgia Rule had been able to bolt from this shallow movie. It has a split personality: the dark script goes in one direction while the tone of the film, under the direction of Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, A League of Their Own), goes in another. As a result, its excellent cast is adrift in a film that doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or a drama. Although Georgia Rule attempts to blend the two, it ends up exploiting — rather than exploring — its heroine’s demons. To find out what I mean,
We find out very quickly that mother/daughter strife is multi-generational. Lilly is so uncomfortable being with her mother that she leaves right away, saying she has plans with friends. When Rachel shows up and hears this obvious lie, she deadpans, “She stopped drinking, smoking and hating herself, too.” Sounds like a laugh riot so far, no? Rachel quickly tests her strict grandmother, whose set of rules the film’s name references. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” goes a typical refrain. “Georgia Rule.” Rachel’s response? “Don’t tell me what to do. Rachel Rule.” And what, primarily, does Rachel want to do? Seduce men.
The first man who catches Rachel’s eye is a handsome Mormon teen named Harlan (Garrett Hedlund) who first spots Rachel dozing on the side of the road. (Her relationship with him is one of the film's lame subplots.) Shortly after he gives her a ride into town, she hops into another stranger’s car, belonging to the town’s resident hunky vet and widower, Simon (Dermot Mulroney), who, it turns out, once dated her mother. He, too, resists her big city “forward” ways, ignoring her cleavage and leg-flashing. (She’s supposed to be from California, “the land of fruits and nuts.”)
Here’s where Georgia Rule gets into big trouble. Like those around her, the film doesn’t know how to handle Rachel sexually acting out. When it’s revealed that perhaps she’s been sexually abused by her stepfather, the sensitive viewer will be troubled by how Rachel’s shockingly self-destructive sexuality has been played for laughs and how the camera has been lingering lasciviously over her scantily-clad body for the entire film.
It’s the acting, primarily from Huffman and Lohan, that made Georgia Rule bearable for me. Huffman’s performance as a weak woman trying to deal with her daughter’s demons when she hasn’t even conquered her own is heart-rending. And no matter how you feel about Lindsay Lohan’s off-screen antics, she lights up the screen with her manic energy, humor and aggression. Nevertheless, in spite of its feel-good ending, Georgia Rule doesn’t have much affection for its female characters. They remain misunderstood until the very end.