Lindsay Lohan's off-camera behavior turns out to be a good reflection of the chaotic disarray of this film.
Was it Lindsay Lohan's much-publicized wild child behavior on the set of "Georgia Rule" that doomed this muddled family saga? Was it the bipolar script, which combines mother/daughter relationship schmaltz with dark, R-rated sexual material? Was it Felicity Huffman's method approach to playing Lohan's binge-alcoholic mother? The actress admitted to actually getting drunk for her blotto scenes.
Whatever the cause, the result is a train wreck, Hollywood's first feel-good sexual abuse movie. Lohan stars as Rachel, a San Francisco teenager who makes Britney Spears look like the epitome of poise and grace. Huffman is her aggravated mom Lilly, who is dumping Rachel in rural Idaho. The wayward girl will get a summer of tough love and straight talk from stern Grandma Georgia (Jane Fonda, in the sort of no-guff performance perfected by Wilford Brimley). Since Rachel's idea of a good time involves crank, underage sex and crashed sports cars, it promises to be a dull vacation.
Yearning for excitement, the new girl in town comes on to virginal Mormon man-child Harlan (Roseau, Minn., native Garrett Hedlund) and Simon, the hunky widowed veterinarian (Dermot Mulroney). Granny, although she makes blasphemers in her home suck a bar of soap and inflexibly serves supper at 6, doesn't have disciplinary techniques advanced enough to control Hurricane Rachel. The teen is soon trolling Main Street in scandalous clothes, sleeping over at the vet's house (platonically), and undermining Harlan's religious commitment with various unsafe acts in his fishing boat.
Opening with a raunchy but light comic tone, the story veers into queasy territory. It becomes clear that Rachel's acting out isn't overamped teen rebelliousness or loose West Coast morals ("She was raised in San Francisco," Georgia explains to her appalled neighbors). Serious psychological issues are in play. Although the girl has been established as a manipulative liar, she declares that she was molested by her stepfather, Arnold (Cary Elwes). The news devastates her grandmother, mother and stepfather. Then she recants the story, reaffirms it and denies it again. The screenplay pulls the rug out from under our trust in Rachel too often. The film exhibits the same sort of indecisiveness. Director Garry Marshall can't choose whether Huffman's alcoholism is slapstick or pathetic, whether Harlan is a paragon of virtue or a dumb rube. Worse, he flip-flops between using sex for laughs and outrage, trivializing abuse into a boo-boo that can be healed with hugs and "I love yous." When the truth about Rachel's past finally emerges, we scarcely care.