First, I have to set something straight: Georgia Rule is not a comedy. There are several funny moments and a couple funny characters. But if you've seen the three smiling faces on the movie poster or watched the countless previews that make this look like this month's Because I Said So, an intergenerational female giggle and schmaltz fest, be forewarned. This is a family drama with some serious themes.
We start the movie with Rachel (Lindsey Lohan) getting her brat on in the middle of lonely Idaho highway. She and her mom, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), are having words—loud words. Rachel insists on walking the rest of the way to her grandma's house, where she'll be spending her summer. After walking a while, she takes a quick nap in the shade of a Welcome to Idaho billboard, where she's found by Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), the local young hunk, and Simon (Dermot Mulroney), the town vet. Rachel opts for the latter for a drive into down, climbing into his convertible while practically purring her sexual come-ons.
In the meantime, Lilly arrives at her mom Georgia's (Jane Fonda) house, where the two exchange awkward greetings and can't say goodbye fast enough. Rachel eventually arrives, and we learn that she's been sent to live with grandma for the summer because she's so out of control—drinking, smoking, running around with men. A "sentence" with her drill-sergeant-like grandma is her mom and stepdad's last resort before Rachel heads off to college in the fall.
Rachel and Georgia are like oil and water. Rachel's incredulous that Georgia got her a job for the summer. Georgia won't tolerate Rachel taking the Lord's name in vain—even makes her suck on a bar of soap for doing so. Rachel marches to the office where Georgia got her the summer job, prepared to quit—until she recognizes Simon as the vet for whom she'll be a receptionist. Another chance to seduce this man who's the age of her father, and who lost his wife and son in a car accident a few years prior. Rachel also goes after Harlan, especially when she realizes this teen Mormon is a virgin.
Much of the rest of the movie is Rachel's wranglings with Georgia and seducings of Simon and Harlan. We get a curveball when the reason for Rachel's wild behavior is revealed, though throughout much of the movie we don't know whether to believe her. The allegations bring Lilly back to grandma's house, where the three women finally have it out.
All three generations of women in this movie turn in strong performances, though predictably Jane Fonda trumps the other two. Whether she's playing gin with the young neighbor boys, sheepishly buying booze for her alcoholic daughter, or talking about her need for her countless "Georgia Rules," she brings an extra level of realism and depth. Lohan plays a rebellious, messed up teenager quite well, but then we expect her to. I would have liked to see a bit more pain and woundedness in scenes dealing with her serious family issues; just one or two peeks beneath the party-girl-next-door veneer would have been enough. Huffman gets the least screen time of the three and has some of the trickier scenes to pull off—being drunk, enraged at a family member, torn between conflicting stories and loves. Sometimes she veers into campy territory, but for the most part she makes us believe and care.
One major plot flaw kept nagging at me: Why would Georgia, she of the regiment and rules, allow her granddaughter, the one who'd been acting out sexually, spend so much time with Harlan and Simon? Rachel spends entire days fishing alone with Harlan and sleeps overnight at Simon's apartment when the three generations of women can't get along at Georgia's. This seems so obviously like a recipe for disaster—and out of character for a woman who insists her granddaughter get a job and not swear.
It's refreshing that Georgia Rule isn't just another bratty teen movie, that it delves into the intriguing and heartbreaking reasons behind the brattiness. Too few teen-oriented movies get to that important question of why. That said, once the tough family issues are out, they're handled rather cavalierly at times. Rachel talks about these serious family issues, the ones she's kept from her mom for years, to people she's just met, delivering gut-wrenching details like she's talking about a routine day at school. And the otherwise responsible adults in her life don't speak into that void of emotion, save for one great scene with Simon. Dermot Mulroney turns in a nicely nuanced performance as a grieving, upstanding man.
Like this intergenerational family, Georgia Rule is messy. There are odd Mormon schoolgirl side plots, random neighbor boys who pop up a couple times, and an odd menagerie of pets brought in to Simon the Vet (really? a pet pig, a big Toucan Sam-type parrot, and a giant lizard—all in one tiny Idaho town?). With a few scenes cut out and others cleaned up, it could have been a great movie. As is, it's a good family drama—definitely not a comedy—and a nice change of pace from all the big, loud summer blockbusters.Discussion starters
- What issues do each of these three women have with one another? What admission or communication would have helped their relationships? In what ways do we see them hurt one another—and in what ways do we see them sacrifice for one other?
- Which of these female characters do you relate to most? Why?
- Why do you think Georgia has so many rules? What's she trying to accomplish?
- Describing his Mormon faith, Harlan says, "I choose to believe it's true. You've gotta believe in something." What do you think of this description of belief?
- Throughout much of the movie, Lilly is conflicted about what and whom to believe. What would you have done in her shoes?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Georgia Rule is rated R for sexual content and some language. Though there's no nudity or actual sex scenes, the sexual situations implied and talked about are serious. This is not a flick for young Lindsay Lohan fans. Her character, Rachel, tries to seduce grown men and has oral sex with a teen boy. And though she's not nude, she's pretty scantily clad throughout much of the movie. Take the R rating seriously.
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