Judge Brett Cullum has Georgia on his mind. He just took two aspirin for it.
Georgia: For a smart girl, you do stupid well.
Unfortunately the box-office failure of Georgia Rule will be forever tied to the salacious speculations that Lindsay Lohan's partying hindered the production. A letter leaked to the press by Morgan Creek CEO James G. Robinson accused Lohan of being unprofessional, faking illness, and endangering "the quality of the picture." The film studio can blame Lohan if it wants, but truly the film was a victim of mismarketing and the wrong director far more than Lohan's unprofessional no-shows during the shoot. Ad campaigns made the film seem like a light fluffy chick comedy directed by Garry Marshall, and the truth is the film should have been a dark look at an unsettling topic ripping a family apart. Lohan plays a bad girl out of control, showing how she got there. It may be more autobiographical than Morgan Creek would admit. Moreover, Lindsay's partying may have helped her get in touch with her character in some strange way. There's a lot of Lohan injected into the character of Rachel, and that's not a defense of bad actions by a spoiled star. Georgia Rule might be the first time we get a glimpse of the real Lindsay Lohan, but unfortunately, it's not nearly complex enough to serve her as well as it should.
Facts of the Case
Georgia Rule is a portrait of three generations of women separated by a lack of communication between them. Lilly (Felicity Huffman, Oscar nominee for Transamerica) can no longer handle her rebellious teenage daughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan, I Know Who Killed Me). She sends her off for a summer of quiet in Idaho, where the mother grew up in a strict moral household. It's a place Lilly swore never to return to, because she is estranged from her mother, Georgia (Jane Fonda, Klute). Lilly thinks the steely grandmother can straighten Rachel out before heading off to college. The movie appears to be a comedy about a spunky party girl from San Francisco trying to get along with good country people, but it turns into something else. Rachel unleashes a bomb that she was sexually abused by her stepfather, and suddenly the characters must debate whether this is a complex revenge lie or a simple truth revealing the root of her misbehavior.
I instinctively wanted to hate Georgia Rule, but it entertained and held my interest despite apparent shortcomings. The main reason for that is there are three very good performances in the film belonging to Lindsay Lohan, Felicity Huffman, and Jane Fonda. Three generations of great actresses can carry a film to a degree, and this trio is up to the challenge. Lohan has the chops, and she plays a troubled teen all too well. I've seen a somewhat silly comparison to James Dean for this role, but certainly there is a Rebel Without a Cause spirit to her character's arc. Whatever you can say about the girl's personal life, she does well with this coarse character. Felicity Huffman was a wise choice for the alcoholic mom role, and the producers had to shoot her scenes during weekends thanks to her Desperate Housewives schedule. Jane Fonda gets the pivotal role of the calm wise grandmother who's rules inspire the title. Her top billing is somewhat misleading for how much she is in the film, yet Fonda provides the rocky strength the character needs to provide. These three women are the sole reason to check this movie out.
Universal has released a thorough edition of Georgia Rule which has a ton of extras and a good transfer. The anamorphic widescreen image looks gorgeous, and there aren't digital artifacts to contend with. Colors look correct, even though there is a strong use of unnatural sepia filters by the director of photography. Surround sound creates a nice atmosphere, and gets the job done well. The extras include three featurettes covering the cast and production, an insightful commentary by director Garry Marshall, deleted scenes, and a gag reel. It's a very nicely put together DVD, and Universal treats the project well for a picture that underperformed when it was released.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the good performances, Georgia Rule has problems that bring it down quickly. There is a lack of depth, and the movie ultimately misfires by being neither a successful drama or a successful comedy. The tone is schizophrenic going back and forth from simple comedy to dark drama unconvincingly. Georgia Rule's script had been circulating around Hollywood for over a decade by the time it got made in 2007. For a decade of work and polish, there is something about the narrative that seems rushed in the final reel, and it ends far too neatly to be 100 percent believable. Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) has always been a sentimentalist and, unfortunately, this saccharine quality creeps into what should have been a darker ride. Each actress could carry the story much further, but all that is required in the end are a couple of tearful hugs to make things all right. That's a basic betrayal of the material, and if I can pinpoint a fault in Georgia Rule, it's that it needed an edgier director and a more complicated script. You can't make comedy out of sexual abuse, nor is it funny to see alcoholism come into the mix. Marshall's light touch works against the subject matter.
A great cast is wasted on an uneven script, the wrong director, and a film that was mismarketed upon release. Georgia Rule isn't as bad as critics and box office would lead you to believe, but it does have an identity crisis that sinks it. Garry Marshall isn't the director that should have headed up a drama about sexual abuse and women trying to reconnect. He often resorts to his signature physical gags and light moments that undermine what needs to be darker to succeed. The studio didn't know what to do with the film, so they marketed it as a family comedy. In truth it's darker than that, with frank sexual language and a rough topic that will undermine the goodwill of what most will expect. Despite all of these issues, the performances are interesting enough to merit looking at the film. It's rare to see three wildly talented women of different generations all in the same project. Fans of Lindsay Lohan, Felicity Huffman, and Jane Fonda will appreciate what they do together.
Lindsay Lohan turns in the first performance that seems to mirror her personal life. Her persona is a long way from the silly inane Disney projects she's known for, and some of the scenes here are disturbing. It's eerie to watch her lose control, try to run girls down in a Suburban, and talk about drugs, partying, and sex. Those revelatory moments make the film more interesting than it ever should be. If only Lohan's problems could be solved this easily. It would be nice to think the troubled starlet could be fixed by a hug from Jane Fonda and a tearful Dido song. Georgia Rule makes light of a girl in trouble, and maybe that's where it all went wrong.
Guilty of being an interesting misfire, Georgia Rule limps along with three strong women behind it. They can't save it, but they do provide compelling testimony to how the film could have been a whole lot better.
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• Commentary by Director Garry Marshall
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