Even Jane Fonda can't rescue this Mother's Day clunker

Posted: May 11, 2007

If Hollywood keeps cranking out movies like "Georgia Rule," specially tailored for the second Sunday in May, we should probably just cancel Mother's Day.

Send flowers to mom, but do it on the down-low, the better to dissuade studios from using the holiday as an excuse for releasing the kind of niche-marketed horror show that "Georgia Rule" turns out to be.

On the surface, it seems like standard mom-based meltdown melodrama:

Multiple generations of spitfires (Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, Lindsay Lohan) fight and feud, until the magical moment when they realize they're all the same headstrong woman, pass the Kleenex.

"Georgia Rule" adds in an interesting casting wrinkle (no pun intended): Fonda plays grandmother to Lohan, and it's a convergence of headline-grabbing ingenues, yesterday and today. Fonda, the activist who fought for political causes; Lohan, who fights for her right to party.

On the set, apparently, Fonda realized she and Lohan were not the same person. Fonda's from a family of working actors (it's startling how much she now looks like Henry), and reportedly was appalled at the hard-living Lohan's sloppiness on the set.

It's a rift that actually might have helped the movie, since Lohan is cast as a good-timin' floozy sent by her wit's-end mom (Huffman) to stay with her tough-love grandma (Fonda), who lives among the Mormons in Utah and is known for her ironclad rules. Highlight: Fonda forces the profane Lohan to wash her mouth out with soap.

But about midway through, the movie's laugh-through-the-tears reconciliation narrative takes a very strange turn, leaving Garry Marshall ("Pretty Woman") floundering to find the right tone.

He never does, and "Georgia Rule" goes from uncomfortable to embarrassing to just plain bizarre. Creepy passages arising from a ghastly new subplot are set down next to scenes that reflect Marshall's instinct for the sitcom gag - Lohan's bombshell character, for instance, is a scandal in Mormon country, and there is a terrible running joke about local girls conducting surveillance on the new "slut." (The movie's desire to treat Mormon culture/religion as kitsch seems to confirm the widely held idea that Hollywood has a low opinion of life in the flyover states).

The script and direction strand just about everyone in the cast - if you thought Cary Elwes had it bad in "Saw," wait until you see what he's forced to do here as Lohan's stepfather.

A shame, because this really is a good cast. Lohan, Huffman, and Fonda could have made something of even a mediocre screenplay. As it stands (falls, rather), Fonda's the only one who escapes with anything like dignity: She nails a confessional scene, talking about growing up in a house without love, wearing her father's haunted visage. *

Produced by James G. Robinson and David Robinson, directed by Garry Marshall, written by Mark Andrus, music by John Debney, distributed by Universal Pictures.

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