With the great power of one studio’s huge summer blockbuster comes the even greater responsibility of another studio to provide effective counter-programming. On May 11, Universal rises to the occasion with “Georgia Rule,” hoping that it will appeal to female moviegoers who could not care less about Sony’s “Spider-Man 3,” which is bound to rule the box office when it opens a week earlier.
And with a cast that includes Oscar-winner Jane Fonda (“Coming Home”), Emmy-winner Felicity Huffman (TV’s “Desperate Housewives”) and tabloid magnet Lindsay Lohan (the cover of US Weekly), they will most likely take the bait. They may even forgive director Garry Marshall (“Beaches,” “Pretty Woman”) for piling on the melodrama, resulting in a contrived and cliché-ridden chick flick that makes “Steel Magnolias” look like “Die Hard with a Vengeance.”
Lohan plays Rachel, a rambunctious teenager from San Francisco whose mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), forces her to spend the summer in Idaho with her demanding grandmother, Georgia (Jane Fonda). Rachel causes problems from the moment she arrives, attempting to seduce both Simon (Dermot Mulroney), the small town veterinarian, and Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), a sweet-natured country boy. But when she soon gives in to Georgia’s rules, she lets down her guard and reveals a deep, dark secret that will either bring her family back together...or break them apart for good.
Up to this point, “Georgia Rule” was best known as the film that caused its producer, James G. Robinson, to write a letter reprimanding 20-year-old Lohan for her unprofessional behavior during production (tardiness was not one of her finer qualities). When that letter was leaked to the Internet for all to see, it only added to her reputation as an out-of-control party girl.
To that extent, Lohan’s presence here might be seen as inspired casting, but the fact is that she rises above her over-exposed image with her strongest grown-up role to date. Following solid supporting turns in “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Bobby,” Lohan delivers a seductive, morally complex lead performance in which she holds her own against everyone who crosses her path.
That includes the terrific Felicity Huffman, who has her own issues as Lohan’s alcoholic mother, and screen legend Jane Fonda, the matriarch who’s estranged from her family for reasons that are never fully explained. And all three have a bone to pick with Cary Elwes, Huffman’s sly husband and Lohan’s stepfather who may be the reason why she is so screwed up in the first place.
As it all builds to a fever pitch, you can’t help but wish that everybody would just take a chill pill and hug it out. Until that happens, there’s enough melodrama to test the patience of even the most hardened chick flick lover. But at the very least, “Georgia Rule” features terrific performances, and if that isn’t enough of a reason to see it…well, there’s always “Spider-Man 3.”
VERDICT: SEE IT!