It can be easy to forget that Lindsey Lohan did not emerge from the womb drunkenly fleeing a car crash. It is similarly instructive to remember that Lohan's first words were probably not, in fact, "Whuzzat officer? I'm not drunk! You're drunk! Get me my publicist now, little man!" It seems like a pop-culture eternity has elapsed since anyone took Lohan seriously. But as recently as three years ago, Lohan was known as a talented, likable young actress first and a demented, out-of-control harlot second.
Alas, that was before an endless deluge of screaming tabloid headlines, TMZ clips involving prominent use of the phrase "Fire crotch," and sleepwalking performances in pandering dreck like Just My Luck and Herbie Fully Loaded whiled away the goodwill generated by her critically acclaimed turns in The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. For Lohan, tabloid oversaturation kicked in hard about three years ago and has shown no sign of easing up. Even dads titillated by Lohan's pouty Lolita routine are probably sick of having the orange-skinned temptress stare vacantly at them from glossy magazines in various stages of undress.
Watching Lohan's latest and perhaps greatest public embarrassment, I Know Who Killed Me, I found myself wondering how someone could fall so far so quickly. How do you go from Mean Girls and working with Robert Altman to playing a stripper in Z-grade schlock that's only a quick step up from snuff films and stag loops in just three short years?
Today I got my answer: Georgia Rule. There's bad and then there's career-killer bad. Georgia Rule belongs unmistakably in the second category.
In 2007, two wildly dissimilar yet strangely simpatico films offered novel solutions to the persistent social problem of drunken, sex-crazed ex-child-stars pursuing libertine lifestyles that lead irrevocably to lying on the side of the road in a state of disrepair. Black Snake Moan proposed a radical chain, radiator, and Jesus-based rehab alternative run by untrained but qualified tormented soulmen. Georgia Rule, meanwhile, postulates that there's no party girl so depraved that she can't be fixed with a heaping helping of grandma-style tough love.
In Georgia Rule, Jane Fonda plays the Samuel L. Jackson role of the gruff disciplinarian burdened with curing a wild child's wanton ways. I kept hoping that the film would cut the foreplay and subtext and just show two hours of Lohan in Betty Page-style bondage gear getting paddled hard by dominatrix Fonda. The result would be a lot more emotionally honest than what director and nice old man character actor Garry Marshall–that great homogenizer, that majestic maestro of arch-mediocrity–delivers.
Georgia Rule opens with Lohan stalking down the road as mother Felicity Huffman (a.k.a half of Hollywood power couple Wellicity H. Muffman) brays at her that she doesn't know where she's going. This scene immediately establishes a template of horrible people behaving horribly to each other from which it seldom deviates.
When Lohan rests her eyes by the side of the road and is discovered by a local with shaggy surfer hair and simian features, she quips ""My God, are you one of those back-country sodomy boys?," a line sadly indicative of the film's first half. Now I realize that some of you may be annoyed at how extensively I quote terrible dialogue in these posts, but I want My Years Of Flops to double as one of the most comprehensive repositories of de-contextualized bad-movie dialogue online.
With that in mind here are some particularly choice zingers culled exclusively from the film's first fifteen minutes: "Are you crazy?" "No. I'm Rachel." "I don't like to talk." "Perfect. I don't like to listen." "So if everybody took a poop in the middle of Main Street, you'd do it too? 'Cause they said it was right?" (sadly this is Fonda's first line. Boy I bet she never regrets coming out of retirement.) "I got pain from my gluteus shooting straight up and out my eyes from sitting on a hard floor with two boneless children." "You got yourself a nice feel there, didn't you, Harlan Wilson?" "Hey" is for horses. Better for cows. Pigs don't eat it 'cause they don't know how." "Save the lies for something more important than cancer." "Try and jerk me around, Grandma." (a line I imagines doubles as foreplay for Fonda and her harem of kept men)
Ten minutes into Georgia Rule, I found myself thinking "Wow, this show is terrible! I hope it gets cancelled before the first commercial break." If the tone television veteran Marshall was shooting for was "bad Designing Women spin-off," then he succeeded spectacularly.
Lohan is sent to live with grandma Fonda, a tough-nosed old broad with a set of iron-clad directives collectively known as "Georgia Rules." For example, if someone uses the Lord's name in vain, Fonda angrily demands that they wash their mouths out with soap. That, I suspect, is Hollywood's way of saying, "Look, we deeply respect the idiotic, superstitious religious beliefs of you ignorant mouth-breathing hillbillies in the flyover states. Please reward our cultural sensitivity by stocking up on Georgia Rule the next time you hit Wal-Mart."
Fonda gets Lohan a job in the office of perennial male love interest Dermot Mulroney, who runs one of those sleepy small-town veterinary clinics where they don't mess around with none off that big-city insurance foolishness and clients can pay for treatment in the form of possum stew, a jar of molasses, or a spirited jug-band rendition of "Oh Susannah."
Lohan quickly makes all sorts of friends and enemies by giving an earnest Mormon boy a blowjob that plays havoc with his sense of morality and awkwardly tells Mulroney that she was molested by her stepfather as a way of making him feel guilty for still grieving the death of his family (take that, dude mourning the death of his son and wife).
Though it opens like a shrill culture-clash big-screen sitcom, Georgia Rules devolves slowly but surely into a leaden melodrama about sexual abuse and alcoholism, especially once Huffman returns to face her alcoholism and her husband's sexual abuse of her daughter. The film's bizarre tonal left turn from Evening Shade sassiness to emotion-choked family soap opera suggests what Golden Girls might look like if they decided to shut off the laugh track for a three-episode arc illustrating that Rue McLanahan's geriatric sexual adventurer was raped during college and that all her vamping and lustful one-liners were really a desperate way of overcompensating for not feeling desirable or pure sexually.
It's Intro to Film meets Psych 101 as Mark Andrus' schizophrenic script eschews the glib comedy of the film's first act to artlessly explain that Lohan is a skank on wheels because of childhood sexual abuse and her mother's alcoholism while Huffman is a terrible mom because Fonda never told her she loved her.
Georgia Rule's second half is dominated by endless dialogue scenes hashing out decades worth of feelings, but the film takes yet another tonal shift when Fonda briefly morphs inexplicably into a redneck version of Tyler Perry's Madea and takes a baseball bat to Cary Elwes (miscast as Lohan's sexually abusive stepfather) and threatens to dismantle his car if he doesn't wash his mouth out with soap for taking the Lord's name in vain.
It's tempting to blame Lohan's tabloid shenanigans for the film's colossal failure, but it's hard to imagine anyone breathing life and conviction into such an impossible role. In a delicious bit of irony, producer James G. Robinson publicly accused Lohan of being too much of a drunken, doped-up party tramp to effectively portray, um, a drunken, doped-up party tramp in Georgia Rule. But Lohan is ultimately nothing but a scapegoat for a film doomed from top to bottom, a bizarre, perpetually misfiring marriage of convenience between rote comedy and dreary melodrama. Even the usually solid Huffman delivers a grating, unbearable performance.
When Lohan is telling McDermott about her childhood sexual abuse in the scene that signals the film's disastrous shift from sitcom sass to soap suds, she briefly waxes philosophical, opining, "You can't stop what's done to you. You can only survive it." As Lohan's post-Georgia Rule malaise has proven, sometimes you can't even manage that.Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Failure