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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Georgia Rule

  1. With the opening of Georgia Rule at the Essex Cinemas this weekend, I was reminded of a few rules of my own for filmmakers that I’d like to share:

    1) Don’t open a chick flick ~ especially a multi-generational chick flick ~ during the first rush of Summer Blockbusters and expect yours to make any money no matter who stars in it;

    2) Don’t open any chick flick during the first rush of Summer Blockbusters ~ especially one with an arachnid costume-wearing superhero starring in one of the movies ~ and expect yours to make any money. Period.

    3) Don’t expect any straight man who lives in a red state to ever see a Jane Fonda movie no matter whether he was born before or after the Vietnam War (unless it is Barbarella, and then all is forgiven because, Heck, she was young, beautiful and nekkid in that one);

    4) If you are co-starring with Lindsay Lohan in a movie, make sure not to eat anything that has touched any surface where she may have sat in the previous 21 days which has not been disinfected with industrial strength bleach AND iodine, and even then it is best to cover the surface with a lead blanket (you can borrow one from any dentist);

    5) If you are Felicity Huffman, you could do better than either “Desperate Housewives” or Lindsay Lohan, and you need to get a new agent or begin drinking in real life the way your character in Georgia Rule does onscreen if you are going to settle for playing second fiddle to the Walking STD or Terri Hatcher;

    6) Jane Fonda needs to realize that she is NOT Katharine Hepburn and she doesn’t have the gravitas to grow old gracefully. Jane really should pull it up, pull it back, and tighten as needed. Crow’s feet, yes. The whole crow, no. Oh, and Jane: No amount of silly hats and wide shots of you framed with auburn gel-lights while you look wistfully towards the sunset are going to make you Kate Hepburn On Golden Pond fabulous. They’re not even going to make you Henry Fonda On Golden Pond fabulous. Truthfully (I’m sorry, Dear, but it’s true), they’re not even going to make you look Jane Fonda On Golden Pond fabulous. That ship has sailed, my favorite former Mrs. Turner.

    Well, okay, those are just starters, but they hold true when it comes to Georgia Rule, and some of them could have helped make this an out-and-out masterpiece of chickflickery like Steel Magnolias, but it’s not quite that flamboyantly over the top. Still, Georgia Rule is a great ride despite the grisly casting of the tabloids’ Phavorite Pharmaceutical Abuser of 2005, 2006, and rumored sure-thing for 2007 in the main role of Rachel.

    And what a good example of art imitating life! Rachel is a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed, whorish, lying, drug-abusing tramp. At 17 she has seen more male genitalia close-up than a 20-year-veteran Army urologist. She knows more about drugs than Pfizer, and she has the charm of a cobra with a headache. No wonder director Garry Marshall (The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement) immediately thought of Lohan (Just My Luck) for the role. She’s perfectly cast and brings just the right cahones-cracking charmlessness to the character to make you easily understand why her
    mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman; Transamerica), was bringing her to the small town of Huff, Idaho, to dump her off on the doorstep of her own mother, Georgia (Jane Fonda; Monster-in-Law) as the film opens. The ironic twist in all this is that Lilly can not stand her own mother just as Rachel despises hers and yet it is Georgia she turns to with help in straightening her daughter out. A lot of Lilly’s resentment comes from Georgia’s butting into Lilly’s life and trying to get her to stop drinking. Lilly, you see, is a (barely) functional alcoholic. Perhaps that explains why she doesn’t see the parallels between her own wanting to get away from her mother and Idaho two decades earlier and her current situation with Rachel’s rebelliousness and drug usage now.

    In the twenty years since she left Huff, Lilly married a second husband (after Rachel’s father died), this time to a very wealthy defense attorney, Arnold (Cary Elwes; Walk the Talk), and she has created a sophisticated life for herself in San Francisco, surrounding herself with committees to sit on by day along with bar stools to occupy at night. Somewhere along the way though, she seems to have lost her attachment to Arnold, except when he wants her in bed, and Rachel, except when she wants her for bail.

    Of course, much of the action in Georgia Rule involves the “fish out of water” aspect of Rachel’s discovering life in rural Idaho, as she realizes that “Idaho” is a state name and not just a career declaration anymore (“Who are you?” “I da ho.”). There are riffs on Mormons, including a subplot involving Rachel's determination to steal the virginity of a local would-be missionary (Garrett Hedlund; Eragon) before he leaves for his two years of service. As they sit in his rowboat, in the middle of a lake, she tosses her panties to the wind (a toxic shock, I'm sure), and spreads her legs, urging him to put his hand up inside. He hesitates, in fear and loathing as any sane man in real life would do, but in this case he does so because he is confused and doesn't know what to do, having gone out that morning with plans to go fishing, not crabbing.

The movie also is peppered with set scenes with a small-town “Northern Exposure” brand of silliness based on the singular idea that the local veterinarian is also practicing “country medicine” on the townsfolk. It doesn’t hurt that the vet is played by taste-treat Dermot Mulroney (Zodiac), who happens to be the former boyfriend Rachel’s mother dumped years before to take up with the town’s “bad boy” (Rachel’s Dad) as a way for her to escape her dreary existence here with Georgia. Naturally, he is now a pining-away widower and this is one Lilly ripe to be plucked on the vine.

In the midst of all of this is Queen Bee Georgia, the maker of the Rule(s) that drive both Lilly and Rachel to distraction. Georgia is so tightly wound she has not done anything spontaneously or off-schedule in sixty years, and it shows. Her fear of living is evident to everyone but herself, yet she is
always ready with a bucketful of advice for the other women in her family as if she has had enough “life experience” of her own outside of her tiny existence in Huff.

Anyway, as you might imagine, this is a pot worthy of stirring, and I am not even beginning to tell you about the most adult content of this R-rated feature. It is definitely an adult film in terms of subject matter as it concerns some extremely serious sexual issues brought up in the second half of the film that will test both the characters and the audience in terms of who to believe and what to think of the situation as presented. It’s a complicated and provocative story and all the women (yes, even my despised Lohan) do darned good jobs in their roles. The only weak link, I’m afraid, is Elwes, who is just too light-weight for this crowd. He has the acting weight of a cotton ball next to Fonda’s Godzilla style stomping about the scene.

It’s a shame there couldn’t have been a whole film about the relationship between Fonda and Huffman’s characters sans Lohan. Granted, this was clearly meant to be a showcase for Lohan (gag), and it is, but in making it so, the brittle distrust and disgust between these two movie-land
desperate housewives is left sidelined and not given nearly enough showcase time. I’m sorry, but I’d much rather watch two mature women throw barbs at one another on-screen than a teenybopper, even a slutty one, no matter how well-honed she is at ho(n)ing. I felt like something was missing by sweeping the older saga to the background. After all, their grudge had been stewing a lot longer than the drama between Rachel and Lilly and if what rocked them to the core was this dramatic, I’d think the story between the grown-up actresses might have actual award winning material in it. Heck, it might actually give Jane her shot at doing some real Hepburn-quality shtick for once

Clamzilla’s Rule: If you want a truly gratifying big girls’ night out, and by that I mean grown-up girls not necessarily ‘big” girls, leave the kids and teens at home with Dad, invite your women friends to join you for a clever peek at some Yankee Magnolias, and head on over to the
Essex Cinemas to enjoy this surprisingly well-done and multi-layered drama.

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