May 17, 2007

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Georgia Rule (R)
Garry Marshall casts a line into the Lifetime Big Box Oí Melodramatic Plot Points and pulls out a couple of hacky favorites (mother-daughter conflicts, inappropriate sexual relationships, alcoholism) to serve as the shaky Tinker Toys foundation for Georgia Rule, a thoroughly awful drama filled with deeply flawed performances by usually good actresses.

Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and, yes, even Lindsey Lohan have all at one time or another created complex characters who undergo changes and come out at the other end of the story arc even more interesting and just as dimensional as they were when the film started. Here, apparently, the cast spent its days playing poker and taking bets on when Lohan was going to be fired instead of thinking about their characters or working on rewrites to the many, many scenes that make no sense, bore or annoy (and many do all three).

Rachel (Lohan) is a shrieking hellcat of a teenager whose mother, Lilly (Huffman), has decided to send her to her mother Georgia (Fonda) for the summer. Georgia lives in a small town in Idaho ó a small town that Lilly fled as soon as she was old enough to ó and Lilly hopes that a summer with Georgia will cure Rachel of all the drinking, drugging, car-crashing and general delinquent behavior thatís filled her teenage years. Rachel, all slutty dresses and exasperated eye rolls, is determined not to be cured of a damn thing. On her way into town, she just bolts from her momís car and gets herself picked up by Simon (Dermot Mulroney), a local veterinarian who used to date Lilly. Despite some aggressive hitting-on tactics, Simon doesnít make a move on Rachel but dumps her off in the middle of town, leaving Rachel to hoof it to Georgiaís house. Though Georgia is happy to see both Lilly and Rachel, neither returns the sentiments. Lilly drops off Rachelís luggage and then leaves; Rachel sasses her displeasure with the situation at Georgia.

But Georgiaís not a woman easily run over by sass. She puts Rachel to work in Simonís office and lays down a bunch of rules about when theyíll eat and how Rachel will fill her days (working, not swearing). Rachel isnít thrilled with these plans but she does accept the job if only because it allows her to continue her wildly inappropriate flirting at Simon. To his credit, Simon doesnít respond, not only because Rachel is clearly a disturbed young woman but also because heís still mourning the loss of his wife and son in a car accident a few years earlier.

Occasionally, Rachel takes a break from putting the moves on Simon to put the moves on Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), an incredulously naÔve Mormon farmboy who is willing to forget his girlfriend for the shiny fireworks show that is Rachel and her inappropriate sexuality.

Just when you think the movie has set up enough paint-by-numbers soap opera storylines to fill a DVD collectorís set of Garry Marshall weepies, we get even more. Rachel casually tells Simon that her stepfather (Cary Elwes) has been having sex with her for years. This brings Lilly back to town ó and reactivates her alcoholism ó and opens up all of the movieís damaged mother-daughter relationships, thus giving each actress a chance to chew scenery and deliver a Valerie Bertinelli-esque monologue in at least two scenes.

Itís fairly common for all the best scenes to appear in a filmís trailer or for a trailer to make a movie look funnier or smarter than it is. Whoever made the trailer for Georgia Rule, though, deserves an Oscar for going above and beyond and crafting a trailer that obscures what the movie really is. The trailer makes the movie look like it might be hokey but tolerable; Fonda, Huffman ó how bad could they be? I donít know what I was expecting ó not a comedy, exactly, but something that would be occasionally funny and perhaps comfort-food enjoyable. The trailer seems like the editorís fantasy of the movie they wanted to be working on ó a not-so-bad woman-focused dramedy that would have enough charm to sit next to Fried Green Tomatoes and The Joy Luck Club in the Movies for Moms and Daughters to Cry Together To section of Blockbuster. The trailer is particularly bait-and-switch-y when it comes to Fondaís role, which appears to be both sizeable and containing some heft (I mean, her character name is in the title). But while Huffman and Lohan wail, Fonda seems to mostly watch, confused. Itís as though she didnít really know she was in the movie; perhaps they told her to wait on the set to talk to Marshall about some future project. Once she found herself in the frame, maybe off-screen assistants just mouthed at her to improvise a character in the scene. Iíd like to think thatís the case. Itíd be a shame if Fonda agreed to do this movie willingly.

Georgia Rule is a shrieking mess from beginning to end with bad one-note performances, lame dialogue and a story that took a bad premise (several, really) and developed it in the least interesting, most needlessly convoluted way. D-

Rated R for sexual content and some language. Directed by Garry Marshall and written by Mark Andrus, Georgia Rule is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.