'Georgia Rule': Actresses Gone Wild

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007

Just what we need least: a warm family comedy about child molestation.

That's "Georgia Rule," which combines battleship actresses of the "Steel Magnolias" variety, fall-down-go-boom comedy that was obsolete in the '30s, Lindsay Lohan's cleavage and rancid mouth and freckles (everywhere!) and some intergenerational fondling just for kicks.

It's a kind of "On Golden Pond" from hell, with Jane Fonda in the role of her late father, Henry; Felicity Huffman in the role of Jane Fonda, and Lohan in the role of that annoying kid who never made another movie but made the phrase "suck face" famous for a week. (His name was Doug McKeon, and he did make a few more movies, the last one in the role of "Detective.") It has the same emotional fraudulence as "On Golden Pond," a series of crass manipulations to give each of the three battleships a chance to maneuver to deliver a broadside to the audience. It's like an audition tape for performers well beyond the audition state.

The setting is Hull, Idaho -- well, the setting is Hollywood, California, pretending to be Hull, Idaho -- a picturesque small town where widow Georgia (Fonda) lives by the same unbending rules that have seen her through her whole life: each meal on time, early to bed, early to rise, repression unacknowledged but the powerful force in her life, emotions willed to nothingness. Into this narrow but ordered existence come her messy but rich daughter Lilly (Huffman) and her total train wreck of a granddaughter Rachel (Lohan), and though they arrive in a Mercedes S, they are each towing several invisible trailers full of issues.

Neurotic Lilly is married to Arnold, a wealthy San Francisco lawyer (played in high unction by Cary Elwes, who once played heroes), but she's never really recovered from her mother's lack of affection. She has grudges. But her more immediate problem is her child, Rachel. Rachel is 17, sexually aggressive, a chronic liar and seducer, a manipulator, an all-around nasty kid headed off to Vassar at the end of the summer. A la "On Golden Pond," the daughter wants to dump her child on her grandmother and take the summer off herself.

Well, the first problem is that Lohan isn't 17, she's 20 and she looks about 35. With her fully developed woman's body, her potty mouth, her makeup-slathered eyes and a wardrobe of frilly, feathery things that just keep slipping off, she looks like she's just in from a night of drunken clubbing. You wonder: What is this adult woman doing in this child's role? She should be running a brothel in Nevada, not working in a vet's office.

She has a couple of men trailing, tongues dragging, in her wake. One is Lily's ex-boyfriend turned town vegetarian and physician (a good way to end up in jail for practicing medicine without a license, bub) played by Dermot Mulroney. You can tell he's a good guy because he always wears plaid shirts. The other is a young Mormon boy, Harlan (played by Garrett Hedlund, Achilles's "cousin" Patroclus in "Troy"), who learns the ways of sin from Lohan's lollipop.

In fact, the movie has an ugly strain of anti-Mormonism throughout it, which I hope doesn't become a Hollywood tradition if Mitt Romney gets the Republican presidential nomination. It's so unfortunate and heavy-handed: The church is represented as extremely repressive for forbidding premarital sex, Mormon teenagers follow and spy on Rachel and Harlan, and the girls themselves are pasty, unpleasantly asexual beings who seem to have beamed down from a hipster's vision of small-town America in the '50s.

But the issue, as I say, is child molestation. Has Arnold been secretly molesting Rachel or not? That becomes the narrative issue, though it's hard to see the brassy Rachel as any sort of victim. But the movie, directed by Garry Marshall, really lets its fleet open fire: Fonda gets to attack Elwes with a baseball bat; Huffman gets a nice drunk scene, any actress's favorite; and Lohan gets to track down her Mormon persecutors and threaten to rape their boyfriends.

Georgia Rule (115 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for language and sexual innuendo.

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