Even with its telltale R-rating, Georgia Rule is being advertised as a cute family comedy about the wacky culture clash between a California teen and her old-fashioned grandmother, instead of a film dealing with sexual abuse and alcoholism. But here's the biggest problem with the movie: The wacky sell isn't entirely false advertising, or at least not as false as it ought to be.
Now sporting a voice that might as well be sponsored by Camel Lights, Lindsay Lohan is, in theory at least, perfectly cast as a San Francisco teen whose out-of-control partying prompts mom Felicity Huffman to drop her off at the Idaho home of grandmother Georgia (Jane Fonda). Once there, Lohan wastes little time establishing her bad attitude, only to find that Fonda's stern, frequently cited rules (hence the title) keep her rebellion in check. If Fonda had some chain and a radiator, Black Snake Moan-style, she could have cut the movie's running time in half. Instead, she scores Lohan a job with a local vet (Dermot Mulroney), a handsome, conveniently widowed man who happens to be Huffman's old flame. That doesn't, however, stop Lohan from giving a blowjob to an unsuspecting Mormon boy, or talking about her stepfather's past sexual abuse, a revelation that sends Huffman running back to her long-abandoned childhood home.
Having previously reversed the unhappy ending of a script about a call girl who falls in love with a businessman, turning it into Pretty Woman, director Garry Marshall has too much confidence that he can match the weighty issues here with the light comedy. He can't. Or at least he can't with this cast. Stepping into the sort of kooky-old-lady role that Shirley MacLaine doesn't bother taking any more, Fonda comes off best, even though her performance consists largely of pursing her lips in disapproval. Lohan simply clips through her dialogue as if trying to get each scene over with as quickly as possible, and when Huffman doesn't scream, she whines. Lohan and Huffman turn in a ghastly pair of performances that aren't helped by a movie that shifts between sensationalism and moralism. Which is creepier? The way the camera lingers on Lohan's revealing outfit as she confronts her stepfather, or the suggestion that Huffman's drinking is to blame for his abuse? Or maybe it's the hacky way Marshall punches up the comedy by cutting to animals for reaction shots. Even an adorable golden retriever can't smooth away some sorts of awkwardness.