"Georgia Rule" is a hard movie to watch because these days it is pretty much impossible to look at Lindsay Lohan and think of her as the character she is playing in a movie and not as a young woman who has derailed her career over the past summer. Especially when the character she plays is a self-destructive young woman without suitable parental influence, which is not to suggest that this 2007 film from director Garry Marshall typecasts Lohan, but that she and her character are clearly kindred spirits.
Rachel (Lohan) has become a handful for her mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), who decides for some reason that makes no sense outside of the boundaries of narrative necessity, to leave Rachel with her grandmother, Georgia (Jane Fonda), who lives in Idaho and whom Lilly has not seen in a long time. The notion is that desperate times call for desperate measures, but there is never a sense that Georgia with her rules was that horrible of a mother and that whatever flaws Lilly had as a child had become manifestly worse as an adult and a mother. But then we all know what tough love can do for a troubled young girl, and since this film is direct by Marshall, known for "Pretty Woman" and other comedies, we expect a happy ending.
We know that Rachel likes to shock people, but a bigger clue to her personality is that when it comes to men she inevitably employs her sexuality. Rachel believes the best defense is a good offense, so she always wants to get in the first shot, but when she realizes the lip she gives Dr. Simon Ward (Dermot Mulroney) hit home in a painful way that she did not intend, she feels bad about it, which gives us some small reason to have hope for her. But then we cannot make heads or tails out of her relationship with Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), especially given his less than deep reasons for liking her. This is one of those movies where you have to watch it a second time to put everything that happens in the first half in the proper context. Just be aware that when you do that it is not all going to make sense.
It is clearly established that Rachel is a liar, but the pivotal question in this film is whether or not she is lying about one particular thing, and the whole last act of the movie revolves around that issue. At this point the movie starts doing reverses and double reverses. This is a problem for me because instead of telling a compelling story I get the feeling the movie just wants to trick me into thinking the wrong thing. By the time the "truth" is revealed, I had stopped caring, and it was that point where I decided to round down on "Georgia Rule." This judgment was reinforced when I discovered there are all sorts of alternative endings included on the DVD, and while Marshall makes light of the search for the proper ending I must say that films that do not have a clear sense of what the ending should be from start to finish usually seem to have significant problems. If by nothing else other than default Marshall picked the best ending, because I would hate for Fate to provide too happy an ending for these women.
Ultimately, "Georgia Rule" is not a bad movie, but rather it fails to be a good one. That is disappointing given the presence of Fonda and Huffman, because their relationship along could have made for an interesting movie without ever brining Lohan into the mix. Given the setup there should be at least one dramatic scene between each pair of characters, but sadly that does not prove to be the case. I could even make the case that each actress has a stronger scene with Cary Elwes as Arnold, husband to Lilly and step-father to Rachel, than they ever do with each other. Lohan's best scene is when she turns the tables on the local girls who are keeping an eye on her, but when it comes to repairing her relationships with her mother and grandmother the script by Mark Andrus ("Life as a House") basically fast forwards through the by-the-numbers plotlines.