Georgia Rule (review)

Cruel Rules

Well, I thought director Garry Marshall, Enemy of Women, couldn’t sink any lower, but here we are. From the man who brought us the beloved fairy tale about the world’s most spritely hooker (Pretty Woman), the beloved fairy tale about an adorable overgrown lass who treats men like disposable Kleenex (Runaway Bride), and the series of beloved fairy tales about how a woman’s job is subsume her personality and independence for the good of everyone else (the Princess Diaries movies) comes the first goofy, glossy Hollywood comedy about child sexual abuse.
I so wish I were kidding. Oh, I’m sure there is a comedy — a black, bitter, vicious comedy — to be found in the subject of a stepfather’s long-term rape of his teenage stepdaughter, but it would take a helluva lot more balls and talent than Marshall has. David Lynch? Sure. John Waters? Yup, I could see that. But Marshall, the director who’d be your go-to man if you wanted to make sure your sitcom about nuclear armageddon was light enough and not too depressing or, you know, “real”? Not so much. If you think he trivialized prostitution, wait till you see what he does with molestation.

Let’s be fair, though: Scriptwriter Mark Andrus also adapted Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood for the screen, and much in the same way that that obnoxious film celebrated codependency, manic depression, and general female idiocy as womanly virtues, this obnoxious film celebrates acting like a selfish bitch, being reflexively promiscuous, and screaming a lot at everyone around you as the best way to overcome years of abuse: sexual, emotional, whatever. Try it, it’s fun!

Watch for everyone to praise the wacky three-generational triptych of women Marshall abuses and misuses here: Jane Fonda’s (Monster-in-Law) the old-coot grandma, Georgia, the one with all the rules, like how dinner’s at six o’clock on the dot every day, and how you’ll get your mouth washed out with soap, even if you’re 40 years old, for “blasphemy” (an exclamation of “oh, God” will do it). Felicity Huffman’s (Christmas with the Kranks) her neurotic daughter, Lilly, who, wacky gal that she is, is back on the sauce! (How Marshall trivializes alcoholism seems almost sweet in comparison to the rest of the flick. Lilly’s kinda like the goofy sitcom neighbor whose shenanigans are supposed to make you shake your head and chuckle.) Lindsay Lohan’s (Bobby) the out-of-control teenager Rachel — daughter to Lilly, granddaughter to Georgia; imagine Lohan’s own sad real-life, gossip-column cries for attention transferred to the screen and played up as cheerfully feminist and spunky, and try not to cry when Marshall tries to make you laugh at them. These are talented women, no doubt — even Lohan’s flair is enough to make you wish she’d shape up and knuckle down and put her gift to good use — but my overwhelming reaction to their work here is to pity them for allowing themselves to be so demeaned by this shallow story that thinks it’s deep, by this brutally belittling movie that thinks it’s rejoicing women’s strength.

See, cuz what happens is this: Rachel is so wild that Lilly and her husband, Arnold (Cary Elwes: Ella Enchanted), Rachel’s stepfather, send the girl from their home in San Francisco to Grandma’s in small-town Idaho for the summer, hoping she’ll straighten out, or something. Playing at serious drama through the sitcom sheen, Marshall and Andrus launch directly from madcap culture clash between the freewheeling Californians and the Mayberrry-cardboard locals into an obscenely deep pool of made-for-lifetime Lifetime melodrama when Rachel tells a new friend, local vet Simon (Dermot Mulroney: Zodiac), that Arnold started having sex with her when she was 12.

Oops! Did that slip out? Did she mean it? Is this just another one of her lies, her cries for attention? Doesn’t matter. It’s all just backdrop for Marshall’s waving his magical Hand of Inconsequence over everything and everyone. Men become dumb rutting animals, women become harpies who must protect those dumb rutting animals from “better” women — like how “sexy” Lohan preys on one dumb Mormon farmboy who looks like an underwear model (Garrett Hedlund: Eragon), and his plain Mormon girlfriend and all her plain Mormon pals have to come to his constant rescue lest Lohan’s vaginal dentata swallow him whole.

Marshall is so casually cruel that he makes me want to come to the defense of sleazy lawyers like Arnold, uptight prudes like Georgia, and the religiously brainwashed Mormons, all of whom he kicks in the ass repeatedly. Bad enough that Georgia Rule tries to be cute, but its meanspirited heart masquerading as a sensitive and progressive one is even worse.

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