Garry Marshall works hard on the nepotism front to bring families a little closer together with Georgia Rule. Disappointingly, he doesn't have the sure hand with three generations of ladies that he had two decades ago with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason in Nothing In Common.
In his best known films, Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries, Marshall worked well with characters that audiences could embrace through Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway. Now, he has the talents of Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, and tabloid magnet Lindsay Lohan. Yet, he gets into a "red zone" with this dramedy that is rather messy, like the parts that these high-profiled actresses inhabit.
In a scenic film that is primarily set in the fictional Mormon town Hull (rhymes with dull), Idaho, Lohan's rebellious, feisty Rachel has had a falling out with her mother Lilly (Huffman) on her way to a summer with her grandmother (Fonda). Lilly, often commuting from her San Francisco home, arrives well ahead of the impulsive Rachel to have a less than sweet conversation with mother Georgia. This matriarch who shares her quaint farm abode with two young boys follows unbreakable rules, about God being first and work coming a close second.
The uneven, if somewhat tart script from Mark Andrus (Divine Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood) is about "exploring forgiveness and how to trust what a child is saying." Georgia tries to prove that she can be a better mother with Rachel than with Lilly who is into dipsomania. The dialogue cynically gets into the antagonism that runs between mothers and daughters and grandmother and granddaughter.
Lohan's Rachel has the most complex character, moving from being dangerous to wounded, not understanding the difference between love and sex in many ways. It's her most adult role to date, conveying the importance of secrets and lies within such a dysfunctional dynamic. The result is somewhere between Lohan's Mean Girls and Ya-Ya Sisterhood that strains to find redemption within the unbreakable bonds of motherhood.
This summer of wretchedness for Rachel stirs up the sleepy Hull with very proper teens. The boys live a celibate life on their mission for the Mormon church, including the naive country set-to-wed guy Harlan (Garrett Hedlund of Four Brothers and Troy) who "kisses" Rachel while out on a boat. Dermot Mulroney, good as a police captain in Zodiac is the jaded, handsome veterinary-human doctor Simon, whose simple office emphasizes the types of patients he tends for. And, veteran actor Cary Elwes, best known in recent years for being in the horror hit Saw, has an important part as Rachel's odious stepfather Arnold.
The beauty of a hometown filmed in places like San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys in California almost convey the quaintness of On Golden Pond when Fonda acted with poignancy opposite her late iconic father, Henry. Georgia says, "Everyone is savable, that's the rule." Maybe not in this uncertain, convoluted manner as scenes vacillate from hosing down in Georgia's front yard, to Lilly cutting her hair during an inebriating meltdown to another stammering out of a luxurious automobile.
Fonda displays more true grit after the more physical Monster In-Law and Huffman (way better in Transamerica and "Desperate Housewives") channels Joan Crawford with fragility (looking a little like Frances McDormand). And, Lohan has a way to frankly temper her hostility, especially when she hunts down some nosy, paparazzi-like kids. After fine supporting turns in Bobby and A Prairie Home Companion, the nearly legal Lohan has Rachel let down her guard. However, the ultimate reckoning of the revelations and understanding, though compassionate to women, is a bit of an emotional blackmail.