RIORI Vol 3, Installment 70: Garry Marshall’s “Georgia Rule” (2007)

The Players…

Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, Felicity Huffman, Dermot Mulroney and Garrett Hedlund, with Dylan McLaughlin, Zach Gordon, Cary Elwes and the always reliable voice of reason in almost every Marshall-helmed flick Hector Elizondo (him usually always being the best part).

The Story…

Lily’s had her fill of her unruly daughter Rachel, what with the dropping out of school, questionable relations, too much obvious, reckless persona and even more reckless, obvious cleavage dripping off of her. So this exasperated mom takes her wild child to Idaho to live with her flinty, no-BS grandmother Georgia, who’s quick to lay down a simple set of rules centered on two things: God’s love and hard work.

This be some sh*t Rachel willfully knows nothing about. Not Lily either, really.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

The Rant…

Christ, hiccups are annoying. You wanna know how stop them? I got a trick, but first we need to know the nature of the beast.

A hiccup (or hiccough if you’re more sophisticated) is a spasm in the diaphragm, that thin muscle beneath the lungs that regulate their respiration. For some unknown reason the thing occasionally gets hinky. You usually breathe without thinking about it. Involuntary. But now and again you swallow too much Corn Pops at once or torpedo a can of PBR and bingo, your diaphragm gets all twitchy. Boink boink boink. It gets irritating, like a burp you can’t release.

Now science doesn’t know what hiccups are for, nor a bonafide way to stop them from happening. There are theories (some involving shotgunning PBRs) that when a foreign element intrudes on our normal breathing practices—some glitch in our standard, smooth-running, Twinkie bolting anatomy—our diaphragm gets mixed signals and suddenly there’s a scratch in our CD.

Here’s how you hack it.

Since breathing is an involuntary thing, as are hiccups, you should get all mindful. To rid yourself of this ant at the picnic you consciously take control of your breathing. Realize you do this normal breathing thing every second without a thought. Take deep, forceful, evenly paced breaths. For me it usually takes about five. Find your center. Breathe deep. You’ll become aware of your diaphragm. You’re controlling it now rather than the other way around. Sure enough after a few monitored breaths the doohickey will calm down and you can get back to that next can of PBR.

That lesson taught—and to get all Robert Fulghum on your collective asses—we can’t avoid hiccups in life. And not just the ingested ones, figuratively and literally. Again, science can’t explain the physical reasons why hiccups happen, but we can all identify with the bullsh*t that throws our routine out of wack. Our life out of wack. Can’t predict it. Can’t control it. Might be big, might be little. But after awhile it sure gets annoying as sh*t. It was all fine yesterday…now what?

In comparison, that’s what it’s like to be involuntary uprooted from your usual state of days and plunked into terra incognito. I’m willing to wager that modern science has a vague idea as to why hiccups happen, but probably due to meager funding and more important stuff like, I dunno, curing AIDS such annoyances like hiccups get slated to the back burner of a banquet kitchen range. That’s 8 burners, BTW.

But when such hiccups happen, sh*t they are annoying. There goes your comfy routine. No bacon with your eggs at breakfast. I gotta take the bus today? What do you mean it’s gonna take six to eight weeks for my winning eBay bid for a first pressing of the Faces’ Long Player album to arrive from London (okay, that was mine. Duh)? Hiccups. Things might seem mox-nix, but when the little, vital sh*t gets hacked, boy oh boy does the week get all kerfuffled.

Kinda like a forced homecoming in Idaho.

Wait. Too abrupt? Idaho? What the f*ck do hiccups have to do with the Gem State?

Quiet now. My blog, my Rule…

Being a parent is never easy. That goes without saying so much than why even say that? Still, as a mom and/or dad you do your best to aim your little ones towards the proper goals in life. Goals you may have reached and were rewarded by or goals that slipped by and wouldn’t want young Dick and/or Jane to miss out on.

But life itself intervenes, and there are hiccups.

Lily (Huffman) has had it up to there with her idful daughter Rachel (Lohan) and her wild child antics. “Antics” is a kind descriptor at best. Don’t even start with the “child” notion. Disrespectful, sexually precocious and simply headed down a path of wreck and ruin. Lily can see what’s happening (since it happened to her), so she feels for—demands—a change of environment for Rachel.

So it’s a bittersweet homecoming (mostly bitter) for Lily with Rachel in tow. Back to Hull, Idaho and see you later San Francisco. Home to Hull where Lily’s flinty, no-BS mom Georgia (Fonda) rules the roost. Grandma don’t take no sass, not pulling one’s weight and absolutely no blasphemy. To say Rachel is out of her element is a serious understatement.

Georgia’s heard all about Rachel from Lily’s cursory calls. Lily is sure that time with grandma with change Rachel’s mind about…everything. It sure did for Lily, and she grew up with her (and fled as fast as f*ck as possible to get the hell out of Dodge). Georgia may be down with lowering the boom on Rachel’s wild ways, but a little on the fence about reeling her boozy, chain-smoking daughter in, too. Apple and tree and all of that.

Neither of Georgia’s girls are gonna get out of Hull intact. Let the kicking and screaming commence…

I usually consult the professional reviews at AllMovie about the films on my chopping block to get an idea of what I might be getting into that week. Now I’m not a skeptic, not really. I’m more of a I’ll-belive-it-when-I-(literally)-see-it kind of guy. Whatever the critic in question bases their opinions about a particular film is subjective. Duh. I often don’t care what they say. I just want an idea of what I’m getting into. I’ll believe it when I see it. Literally.

This time around, I was forced to agree with AllMovie’s assessment of Georgia Rule. I owe critic Derek Armstrong a dinner for his words of caution. He wrote about the movie, and I quote: “Georgia Rule is an icky film.” Icky. There’s an adjective I thought I never use to sum up a film. Lousy? Sure. Bad? Pedestrian but to the point. Icky? That’s telling. And wholly accurate for this family melodrama in desperate need of a shower. The kind viral pathologists need after a solid day’s work. Icky.

Rule has precious little going for it, and that’s a shame since it could’ve been really sharp. There was a lot of family drama to cull from here; intergenerational family drama has been a proven film formula for decades, albeit hackneyed and often warmed over. I’ve learned in my short, misspent, missing the matinees youth that family melodramas almost always have a tired, trite premise (such as Rule‘s: wild grandchild, estranged daughter, steely matriarch who meant well but missed a mark, etc). Such tired tropes are sometimes redeemed by solid acting. Fleshed out characters courtesy of actors—seasoned or giving their best college try—that accept the cards dealt and give a (hopefully) fresh spin on old hat.

A good example of this kind of movie is On Golden Pond, a guilty pleasure of mine. Its plot is terribly derivative, rotten with sappy sentimentality and an all too pat resolution. But I love it. Why? Star Henry Fonda (in his final and only Oscar winning role) is a riot throughout, delivering smart and barbed one-liners throughout the movie bookended by smart, barbed grandfatherly wisdom. He was a hoot.

It was Katherine Hepburn’s swan song also, but she lived for another ripe quarter-century. Her sign off was the classic “mother trying to hold it together” via a warm heart and a plethora of wisdom learned against her crotchety hubby for decades. And key, Henry’s real-life estranged daughter Jane played as the on-film estranged daughter who through shared life behind the camera found an understanding with each other, brittle as it was. It wasn’t brittle for very long in reality. Henry was quite ill during filming, and received his Oscar via his hospital bed facing the TV broadcast of the 1981 Academy Awards, daughter Jane accepting in his stead, teary-eyed and quite proud of her dad.

In Rule, Jane seemed to channel her dad’s character from On Golden Pond. And like her dad in his final film, Fonda’s Georgia is the only fleshed-out character in Rule, despite being another stereotype, albeit acting better than the script dealt. I thank the genes. Her no-nonsense, yet still practical and at the same time unconventional Georgia was the best thing about Rule. The only thing, her being an old poop and all.

The rest of the cast is wooden. A clutch of pretty talented, somewhat reliable character actors playing their dealt hands and coming up trumps. What got under my skin about their performances (Lohan, Huffman, Mulroney, et al) is that they failed to rise above their stereotypes. All predictable, all lame. I mean, I would swear that this movie presaged Lohan’s fall from grace, but her performance—as an example—was so incongruent, so forced I was wishing for the actual off-screen BJ spoke about so frankly made it on-screen (hell, the movie was rated a rare R). A lot of shoehorning drama and deviance going on here.

Speaking of shoehorns, it was never really explained how Huffman’s reedy Lily turned out against Georgia being so strict. It came out that Lily’s dad was a drinker, but that only explained—nay, casually remarked—the chemical/genetic aspect. A drinker myself I know what drives my nasty habit, but regarding a fictional character’s personal descent into the bottle in a movie an audience demands some meat on the bones. With dry (so to speak) Lily all we get are bones. C’mon Garry Marshall, throw us one. If this was Mr Happy Days attempt at being edgy he shoulda stayed in Milwaukee.

Back to the ickiness factor: we couldn’t weld the sour with the (bitter)sweet here. It’s the feeling of stuff feeling forced here that also led to Rule‘s undoing. Marshall seemed well out his depth here. Disregarding his uneven CV, shortly within the first act something screamed derivative, more so than usual with Marshall’s trademark treacle. Don’t misunderstand me. Sometimes the man hits gold. Sometimes. The offbeat Frankie And Johnny. The perennial favorite weepie Beaches. The solid and charming Pretty Woman. These may not be great films, maybe barely good, but they delivered comedy-drama in a golden fashion. Rule in comparison is rusty, creaking along and desperately trying to fit into the mold of Marshall’s above mild triumphs. Nothing works, despite Fonda’s enjoyable performance. Star power counts for nothing here.

And that being said, let us consider the supporting cast, Fonda’s bookends. Lily and Rachel have more in common than either would ever admit. That’s obvious, and also gets dark rather swiftly, if not a bit preachy. Another example of Marshall not sure where to go here. Is Rule a family melodrama, a cautionary tale, a lecture? Is there some mirror action reflecting the Lily/Rachel dynamic regarding the opposite sex? I think so. Is there some kind of unhealthy grieving going on with Mulroney’s “vet” schtick? Maybe, unsure. Is Elwes a sexual predator? Yes and no and ugh. Was Marshall exploiting Lohan’s YA physical attributes here? I say too often and more please. Lots of head scratching, nothing to grab on to. Like I said earlier, well-structured characters delivered by solid actors can elevate a mundane story into interesting entertainment. Short of the mark in Rule, it all being so damned disjointed. Only the work of a Civil War sawbones’ skills could make this movie work. With crossed fingers.

There gradually came a large swath of this movie where I ceased taking notes. It wasn’t as if I oh so engrossed, nor there was nothing else to say. My brain just gave up. I’ve noticed I tend to go on and on and on thrashing movies I dislike, but positive commentary is usually short and sweet. Well, that’s how it should be I think. Good stuff doesn’t need nor invite a ticker-tape. Such flicks speak for themselves. The flipside sometime demands an air strike. Rule fell under the latter. And the irony is that respected actor Fonda caught a lot of heat back in the day with her USO appearance in Vietnam. She got carpet bombed in Rule right that. I almost feel sympathetic.

Now someone get me a glass of water. The breathing method ain’t working here.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. This was awful. Not the worst movie dismantled here at RIORI, but damned close. That is all and good night.

Stray Observations…

  • “If she turns out to be sane…she’s all yours.”
  • Dylan versus Frankenreiter? No question there.
  • “Don’t hit me with fish.”
  • I will not mention the Dread Pirate Roberts.
  • “Not on the mouth.”
  • Jane’s got a nice butt, even at 70. Must’ve been all those aerobic workouts in the 80s.
  • “Go with this one.”
  • I liked not liking Elwes’ sniveling.
  • “Oh, please! You’re a lawyer!”
  • Was it in her contract for Lohan to wear only low-cut?

Next Installment…

Part 1 of a 2 part study examining Spielberg’s missteps (yes, he had a few): The Olympics are supposed to be time for nations to come together for friendly competition and putting politics aside. So what the blue f*ck happened in Munich back in ’72?

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