Georgia Rule

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Georgia Rule."

A multigenerational dramatic comedy about a fractured family, Garry Marshall's "Georgia Rule" proves to be more prone to malfunction than dysfunction.

Despite its three solid leads -- Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan (yes, this was the production that inspired Morgan Creek chief James G. Robinson to write the latter a little letter) -- the film fails to make a connection to its audience, or itself for that matter, as it constantly struggles to find a suitable tone.

The director in the past has demonstrated a bankable knack for mixing light comedy with more serious elements, but the decidedly darker elements of Mark Andrus' script never jibe with Marshall's breezier instincts, and the awkward results are all too apparent.

Universal obviously is aware of those problems, dropping the picture into a market that's stoked for upbeat summer escapist fare. As a result, "Georgia" is unlikely to be on the minds of many moviegoers.

Screenwriter Andrus ("As Good as It Gets") drew upon his Mormon upbringing to tell the story of Rachel, a trouble-making California teen (guess who?) who is sent to a small town in Idaho by her alcoholic mother, Lilly (Huffman), to live with her strict, rule-enforcing grandmother, Georgia (Fonda).

The caustic, impudent, promiscuous Rachel is a real piece of work, but she's nothing Grandma hasn't dealt with before, and Georgia's got an endless supply of mouth-washing soap to prove it.

It's soon revealed that Rachel is a rebel with a cause, but even when the audience is asked to view her in a different light, her character's subsequent abrupt behavioral shifts make her tough to embrace.

But the bigger problem with "Georgia Rule" is that the troubling subject matter required a gutsier, take-no-prisoners approach (think Todd Solondz or Catherine Hardwicke or any number of Sundance-approved directors) rather than the safely mainstream balancing act that Marshall tries unsuccessfully to achieve.

The more Marshall sugarcoats those jagged emotional edges with homey small-town humor, the more uncomfortably unconvincing the film becomes.

His three female leads deliver the required goods with Fonda, particularly, in fine, feisty form.

Although no real fault of their own, the supporting characters, including Dermot Mulroney as a sympathetic veterinarian and Cary Elwes as Huffman's smug husband, tend to come across more like script devices than real, three-dimensional people.

Production values are up to Marshall speed here, with California subbing for fictional rural Idaho, but again, a little less polish and a little more grit might have helped make this wayward story of redemption a bit easier to forgive.

GEORGIA RULE
Universal Pictures
James G. Robinson presents a Morgan Creek production
Credits:
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenwriter: Mark Andrus
Producers: James G. Robinson, David Robinson
Executive producers: Guy McElwaine, Michael Besman, Kevin Reidy
Director of photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production designer: Albert Brenner
Music: John Debney
Co-producer: Bonnie Timmermann
Costume designer: Gary Jones
Editors: Bruce Green, Tara Timpone
Cast:
Georgia: Jane Fonda
Rachel: Lindsay Lohan
Lilly: Felicity Huffman
Simon: Dermot Mulroney
Arnold: Cary Elwes
Harlan: Garrett Hedlund
Running time -- 111 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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