'Georgia' bores, as a rule

Three generations of women clash in a small town in a convoluted soap opera starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, and Lindsay Lohan.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Three generations of rebellious women fall apart and come together in "Georgia Rule." Since the women are played by Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, and Lindsay Lohan, I was looking forward to the ride but soon found myself staring bug-eyed at the screen: There's enough family dysfunction here to fill out a dozen soppy soap operas.

As the movie begins, Rachel (Lohan) and her mother, Lilly (Huffman), are en route from their home in San Francisco to the small town of Hull, Idaho, where Lilly's martinet mother, Georgia (Fonda), presides with an iron hand. That iron is one reason the alcoholic Lilly hasn't visited her mother in 13 years but also the reason for the trip. She wants to deposit her rebellious daughter with the no-nonsense Georgia, who has an unbreakable set of house rules.

Georgia is the type of disciplinarian who demands the foul-mouthed Lilly wash her mouth out with soap for taking the Lord's name in vain. She gets Rachel a job with Simon, the local veterinarian (Dermot Mulroney), who also treats people. (This is presented as cute rather than criminal.)

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Gradually, Rachel adjusts to the humdrum pace of the town but not without setting off a few flares. To amuse herself, she latches onto a devout farm boy and spins his sexual compass. Although engaged, he's smitten enough to want to marry Rachel, in one of the movie's most implausible developments. She also casually tells Simon that her stepfather molested her. But is she telling the truth?

Instead of exploring Rachel's miseries, director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Mark Andrus turn them into a whodunit, which cheapens everything. Following Rachel’s revelation, Lilly reappears on the scene to force
the truth out of her daughter. Then the stepfather, who denies any wrongdoing, pulls up in his red sports car. Georgia, meanwhile, believes Rachel because she can see the girl's inner goodness.

Georgia's biggest rule is "Everyone's savable." But the screenplay for "Georgia Rule" may not be. It's the kind of small-town movie that looks as if it was made by people who never set foot outside Hollywood. (Needless to say, the movie was shot in and around Los Angeles.)

With her sexy get-ups and wayward ways, Rachel comes across as an interloper from outer space. The film implicitly casts Idaho as a haven for righteousness and San Francisco as an exporter of immorality to the hinterlands. All of which is simple-minded and condescending.

Given their roles, the three actresses do their best to breathe life into the mix. Fonda, however, is relentlessly strident and Huffman, though she matches up well physically with Fonda, never convinces as Georgia's daughter. Lohan has some sharp moments of malevolence and her flashes of vulnerability ring true as well. She's a gifted actress, but in "Georgia Rule" she's flailing in a vacuum. Grade: C–

Rated R for sexual content and language.

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