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Georgia Rule   D

Universal Pictures / Morgan Creek Productions

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Mark Andrus
Cast: Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, Felicity Huffman, Dermot Mulroney, Cary Elwes, Garrett Hedlund, Hector Elizondo.

Review by Rob Vaux

It might be easy to dismiss my deep and profound loathing of Georgia Rule out of hand. After all, I am the hapless owner of a Y chromosome, and as such, I could not possibly hope to fathom the intense display of feminine energy onscreen. Then again, if that's true, then neither could the film's director, Garry Marshall, nor its screenwriter, Mark Andrus, who both share my gender. It's not enough to totally discredit the film, of course... at least, not until you look closely at its poster, which pushes two of Marshall's previous endeavors as selling points. One of them is about a princess. The other is about a whore. Consider that, and then ask yourself if this is the right person to discuss female empowerment with us.

On the surface, of course, it's all supposed to be much different. On the surface, we're supposed to marvel at the strength and resiliency of three generations of women and the hard times they're fighting through while learning to appreciate each other. Matriarch Georgia (Jane Fonda) lives life in a draconian cocoon of rules and schedules, fending off unpleasant realities from the small Idaho town where she lives. Her black-and-white worldview sent daughter Lilly (Felicity Huffman) scurrying away to San Francisco, where a series of well-to-do husbands enabled a lifetime of alcoholic self-recrimination. That plopped a big mess right in the lap of granddaughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan), which stunted the young girl's intellectual brilliance and left her with a pattern of compulsive lying, chronic drug abuse, and sexual indiscretion. So the summer before her departure to college, Rachel is shipped up to Georgia's house to stay out of her mother's hair and hopefully learn some lessons on responsibility.

What follows is intended as a road-to-wellness tearjerker in which tough love and tougher truths help the three grapple with their unspoken traumas. But the contrivances and character developments of Andrus' script render the characters so pathetically hateful that it's impossible to connect with a single one. They reveal nothing sympathetic in their pain, no signs of decency or good intentions beyond the most perfunctory. Instead, they simply tear into each other: screeching and shouting in a manner intended to invoke familial dysfunction, but devoid of any real plausibility. Selfishness and narcissism dominate all three, which wouldn't be so bad were it not for Georgia Rule's insistence that such behavior is somehow acceptable. So, for example, Rachel can seduce the local stud (Garrett Hedlund) out from under his longtime girlfriend without a thought as to who gets hurt. We see little of the jilted woman's pain or suffering, save in the vindictive spying from her harpy friends. It's OK, the film assures us: they're Mormon and we all know what narrow-minded religious nuts those lot are. Their values don't matter as much as those of an impulsive free spirit like Rachel, which means she can thoughtlessly hurt them as she pleases, right? Marshall unravels such travails with polished phoniness, moving between feeble laughs and heavier body blows without ever hitting a consistent tone.

It gets worse when the film attempts to uncover the causes of their woes. All three women trace their problems back to bad treatment from men... which Georgia Rule uses to undermine and falsify their supposed strengths. Georgia's alcoholic husband -- long dead -- is trundled out as the source of both her compulsive intolerance and Lilly's own drinking problem, while the film's central dilemma concerns Rachel's ominous allegation that her stepfather (Cary Elwes) has molested her. The issue remains in doubt for most of the running time, but in truth, it hardly matters whether he really did it or not. Either she's lying (in which case she has perpetrated an unforgivable piece of slander), or she's not (in which case her character becomes defined solely by the actions of a male). Marshall never grapples with the emotional impact of either possibility, preferring to use it as an umbrella under which Rachel's every destructive whim is justified. Such is the depressing subtext running through Georgia Rule: for all their sharp verbal banter, their assertiveness, and their claims of independence, these characters live in the shadows of the opposite sex. Men define them, men abuse them, men shape every facet of their lives. Georgia Rule can't think to enable them beyond simply kicking some shitty guy out the door, or define their emotions in any terms that don't have a male at their root.

Instead, it simply uses their traumas as a way of letting them off the hook, preaching empowerment while practicing the most inane form of victimization. They wallow in anger and self-pity, dragging us through a supremely unpleasant series of tantrums justified in cooing, infantilizing terms. "Oh, the poor dears. They've been trampled by those they love. Isn't life hard for them? Isn't it awful when other people make them act this way? Gosh, they're so strong to have survived all that." Bullshit. Real empowerment is about responsibility -- about accepting the bad things that have happened to you and finding the will to rise above them. No one in Georgia Rule rises above anything; they just get a few Hallmark moments and some convenient excuses to act like children. Only in a place as deluded as Hollywood could that be mistaken for feminism. Georgia Rule thinks it knows what it's saying, which renders its inanity all the more unforgivable. I'm going out on a limb here, but it might have helped to put as many women behind the camera as we see behaving badly in front of it.

Review published 05.11.2007.

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