We’re film critics. We’re supposed to be shockproof. We take pride in our ability to watch movies without batting an eyelash when they deal with gay sex, interracial sex, S&M sex, and other forms of sexuality that might freak out less enlightened people.
And yet, incest still squicks out some of us, even when it’s kept offscreen and dealt with honestly, as it is in Georgia Rule. At least that’s my own theory of why this movie is getting such a bad rap from my colleagues. (“A cinematic strikeout,” rants the Los Angeles Times! “A bad idea dreadfully executed,” says the Boston Globe!) It’s far from a great film, but it certainly deserves better press.
The movie begins with an Idaho woman named Georgia (Jane Fonda) receiving a visit from her estranged daughter Lilly (Felicity Huffman), who’s there to hand off her own daughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) to Grandma for the season. Rachel’s Rocky Mountain summer is punishment for her repeated troubles with drugs and the law back in San Francisco, and the exasperated Lilly hopes that Georgia’s tough love will straighten Rachel out.
This has been marketed as a droll small-town comedy, but the proceedings take a decidedly undroll turn early on when Rachel casually drops a bombshell on her self-pitying widower of a summer-job boss (Dermot Mulroney) by telling him that her stepfather regularly had sex with her throughout her preteen years. Though Rachel retracts the story a few hours later, it’s clearly true all the same, so I’m not sure why screenwriter Mark Andrus plays it as a point of suspense whether she’s telling the truth. Even so, the character is sharp enough to recognize that the abuse is the reason why her life is screwed up, and her self-awareness makes this a much more acute movie about incest than the overhyped Black Snake Moan.
The star is obviously drawing on her own bad childhood, but even if she weren’t, this would still be a terrific performance. Check out the bit where Rachel throws herself at the town’s young, devoutly Mormon hunk (Garrett Hedlund) in his fishing boat. It isn’t the sight of the Freaky Friday star seductively removing her panties and unbuckling the guy’s belt that makes the scene so uncomfortable. It’s the compulsive way she leans forward, craving the guy’s touch, yet with a look in her eyes that shows Rachel’s disgust with herself. Here’s another reminder that, for all the personal baggage and extra crap that she’s into, Lindsay Lohan can flat-out act.
Most of the movie’s negative reviews are focusing on the glossy direction by Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) and the interludes of slapstick humor. The humor is out of place, though not jarringly so, and the reviews would undoubtedly be better had Marshall directed in the style of a low-budget indie film. The more serious flaws are in the casting of Huffman, whose acting style is so different from her co-stars’ that it’s difficult to buy them as three generations of women, and in the script’s second half, when extraneous subplots start to clutter the storytelling and the movie trips over itself trying to resolve them all. Bothersome as all that is, it doesn’t make the rest of Georgia Rule any less worthy of your attention.
Starring Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, and Felicity Huffman. Directed by Garry Marshall. Written by Mark Andrus. Rated R.