Georgia Rule (2007)


Georgia Rule
Dir. Garry Marshall
Premiered May 10, 2007

To quote the great Brad Jones, what the fuck, Hollywood!?

Here’s how Georgia Rule begins. Mother Lily (Felicity Huffman) and daughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) are in the midst of a heated argument. Rachel decides to stay on the road and Lily drives on. When Rachel decides to take a nap on the side of the road, a random guy (Garrett Hedlund) stops his truck, fearing that she’s dead. While feeling for a heartbeat, Rachel wakes up, thinks she’s being felt up, and screams. Suddenly, the two politely introduce themselves, then continue their misunderstanding.

After about ten seconds of this, Dermot Mulroney pulls over for no reason, Rachel jumps in, spouts what screenwriter Mark Andrus thinks is a manic pixie aphorism, hitches a ride, and after trying and failing to get him to ogle her, concludes that he’s gay.

Meanwhile in town, Lily arrives at the home of her family values-obsessed mother Georgia (Jane Fonda) to tell her that Rachel will eventually show up, leaves…and then Rachel shows up, rendering every scene until now completely pointless. That’s just the first thirteen minutes, but the entire movie is like this.

Lily and Rachel live in San Francisco, and you know how they are. Trying to save her hellion daughter from a life of abandon before college, Lily has brought Rachel to spend the summer in small-town Idaho under the strict supervision of big momma Georgia, who sets Rachel up with a job as receptionist for Simon Ward (Mulroney), a veteranarian who secretly also treats human patients unable to afford health insurance. Mulroney’s cryptic introduction in the second scene of the movie has zero bearing on the plot, nor does that of Hedlund, who seems to be the only age-appropriate man in town (Rachel later seduces him, though she knows he’s engaged).

When Rachel finds out Dr. Ward isn’t gay, but a widower, she tries to cheer him out of his depression by telling her that her stepfather molested her. You read that right. The revelation leads Lily back home and off the wagon, but leads her to mend fences with her mother, daughter, and Dr. Ward. And after another hour, it just kinda ends. After waffling back and forth, Lily realizes once and for all that Rachel wasn’t lying about being molested. None of the character arcs are resolved; the film, seemingly as an afterthought, decides at the very end that the main conflict should be over the veracity of Rachel’s claims, as if it were a court case and not a movie.

Georgia Rule fascinates me. There is no part of the script or direction that isn’t wrong. Every line is a mixture of forced exposition and gibberish spoken in the cadence of folksy wisdom. Georgia tells her granddaughter to go fuck herself, but goes nuts whenever Rachel takes the Lord’s name in vain. Harlan (Hedlund) is a practicing Mormon who seems surprised that not everyone saves themselves for marriage. Literally everyone in town immediately stops what they’re doing to take notice of Rachel, automatically conclude that she’s from out of town (California, even; how unwholesome!), and take a dislike to her.

And every scene is played like a Pepperidge Farm commercial, with no regard to what is actually going on. Not only was this seemingly written by pod people, the movie comes off like director Garry Marshall didn’t speak English and had no idea what the actors were saying. By discovering a new definition of tone-deafness, Georgia Rule is definitely in the running for worst movie of 2007 so far.

Sign this was made in 2007
Felicity Huffman wears a velour sweatsuit at one point.

Additional Notes

  • There’s a clique of mean girls who constantly stalk and harass Rachel for being a fornicator. I know 2007 was the age of abstinence, but I went to an all-boys school, were regular high-schoolers really into that shit?

  • The film was clearly shot in Southern California, but Idaho mountains were (just as clearly) inserted into the background using CGI.

  • Hedlund and Mulroney amazingly have their dignity intact. Hedlund actually tries, while Mulroney clearly knows how stupid the script is. Coincidentally, they play the only remotely likable characters in the movie.

How Did It Do?
Georgia Rule grossed $25 million against a $20 million budget, failing to recoup its marketing, which I recall consisted entirely of muted behind-the-scenes featurette played on a loop with no sound on an experimental TV system briefly installed in Los Angeles-area buses. In an earlier era, especially before 9/11 when movies like this were a lot more common, this would not have been a notable event. But times had changed, and continued to do so.

At the risk of sounding like a naïve youngster, 2007 really seems to me to have been the point where the rising power of social media enabled bad movies to become a normal conversation topic, and resultingly elevated the profile of movies like Georgia Rule that would otherwise have disappeared into obscurity. Once upon a time, you needed a lot of hype to become a legendary disaster, like The Conquerer or Ishtar. But times had changed, and Georgia Rule, which revolted critics with a 17% RT rating, was denied such a merciful death.

I have a friend of an earlier generation who insists that despite the popular stereotype of elderly family members manipulated into impotent rage by the likes of Fox News, people generally mellow and soften as they get older. We see this in filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, but for the late Garry Marshall, who was a harmless fuddy-duddy to begin with, it was getting ridiculous. At the very least, he learned to avoid touchier subjects, and spent the end of his life making crappy, shallow omnibus holiday rom-coms that tried to ripoff Love, Actually. When he died last year, people took the opportunity to look back his work, but not this, and that’s how it should be.

Next Time: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days


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