— Attempting to spin a story about incest and alcoholism into the feel-good movie of the summer
— Featuring more Dramamine-requiring tonal shifts than the average Tyler Perry movie, with a ready-for-drag Jane Fonda as a bat-wielding, teetotaling Madea-type
— Being so poorly conceived and executed that a boozed-up, out-of-control Lindsay Lohan somehow winds up being the best thing the movie has going for it. (She's still bad, though.)
Defender: Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, The Other Sister)
Tone of commentary: Affably listless, with long stretches of silence and lots of mundane examples of "movie magic" at work. Marshall has long been one of the most personable, funny directors in Hollywood, but the synapses in his brain aren't quite firing like they used to, which leads to anecdotes and observations that tend to trail off into the ether. (Think Grandpa Simpson telling a story for two hours.) Though Marshall occasionally lets fly with some Borscht Belt humor, he mostly gets hung up in minor technical details, like how to make Southern California look like small-town Idaho, or how to cut seamlessly from a set to a real location. He seems particularly proud of his ability to cover up mistakes with old-school trickery: When a backdrop looked ugly, he put a boat in front of it. ("When you're shooting a film, always carry a boat with you.") When a scene needed to be reshot with Lohan and she had changed her hair color, Marshall had her put a towel over her head to make it seem like she just got out of the shower. And when a door didn't stay open like it should have, he was there again with an improvised solution. ("We spent hours trying to fix the door. A rock does it every time.")
What went wrong: Even though Lohan's misbehavior during production led producer James G. Robinson to dress her down, Marshall doesn't often acknowledge the elephant in the room. The closest he gets is when he talks about shooting a scene on a lake in which Lohan's character gives a Mormon a blowjob: "In those trees behind the bushes were so many paparazzi we couldn't count, maybe 30 or 40, making click-click-click noises during the scene." (Marshall cleverly tricked the photographers by whispering "action" to make it seem like they weren't filming.) Marshall also laments the many scenes that needed to be shot in cars ("car shots are the root canals of filmmaking"), and virtually every big emotional scene featuring Felicity Huffman as Lohan's alcoholic mom. (More on that in a bit.)
Though Marshall admits to having to do reshoots and inserting or deleting scenes based on how they played with test audiences, he suggests some production turmoil over a racy scene in which Lohan confronts the stepfather (Cary Elwes) who sexually abused her. "Directors are always being attacked and told to do things by various studio and publicity people, and the director must stand strong," he says. "There was a lot of [pressure] to take this scene out of the movie. But I said to myself, 'Why make a movie that makes no sense?'"
Comments on the cast: There's praise all around for Fonda, Lohan, and everyone else in the cast, but Marshall seems to carry some reservations about Huffman's over-the-top performance. After the scene in which Lohan drops the incest bomb on a drunken Hoffman, she does a very awkward flop down the staircase: "This was one of Felicity's harder moments. We just let her go. To be very honest, we weren't sure if her falling was correct. We took it out, but then put it back in. It said too much." When Huffman chops off her hair, Marshall is driven to distraction: "I was not perfectly happy with the wig Felicity is wearing here. She looks great from the front, not so much from the back." And in another emotional scene involving Huffman, Marshall muses, "Some people thought this was maybe too corny or too much, but women, they like this scene."
Inevitable dash of pretension: From the producer of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley? Fat chance.
The commentary in a nutshell: "Felicity was acting so hard, she broke the windshield to the car."