Tone is something not often brought up in discussions about films amongst friends, but it's vital enough that it can make or break an entire project. You'll probably find no finer example this year than "Georgia Rule" - a film that plays like a fusion of "Little Women" and "The Accused."
The film attempts to balance mild amounts of cliched comedy about country bumpkins and the generation gap with heavy themes of child sexual abuse, alcoholism, and emotional nihilism. The result is a bleak, awkward mixture that never feels comfortable, short of scant quirky comedic moments involving its assorted conceited characters that work in spite of themselves.
Director Garry Marshall, better known for light-hearted fare like "The Princess Diaries," struggles with the more dramatic elements of Mark Andrus' rather confused script which never clearly delineates its characters and their issues in the setup, making the rushed and awkward resolution feel both uncredible and undeserved. A shame considering it does paint these broad characters with some interesting touches and goes for an admirably riskier tone than you'd expect from a film like this.
Of the cast the biggest surprise is that starlet turn tabloid joke Lindsay Lohan comes off the best of the lacklustre turns. Despite all the hubbub that surrounds her, especially in regards to this project during which much of her talked about misbehavior came to light, 'Rule' shows the girl does have some talent - especially when it comes to playing a character that's much more like her own personality.
Her obvious lack of interest in even being on-set actually suits this utterly self-absorbed character, one who's an annoying cow at the beginning and remains a royal c*nt throughout - some unconvincing moral lessons learned by the end notwithstanding. The freak spray-on tan and baby doll shirts she flaunts provide their own form of twisted entertainment for horny teenage males.
It's especially surprising considering that both Huffman and Fonda are far greater actresses, and yet both are wasted with clunky roles. Fonda plays grandma Georgia like an impotent Orwellian autocrat, a woman of strong morals, strict rules and rote life mantras. Yet there's no convincing moral authority or emotional warmth here, making her a cold fish which suitably matches Fonda's largely lethargic turn.
Huffman isn't so lazy as much as dazed and confused, playing her rules-free mother as an over-occupied pushover who turns into a dangerously melodramatic victim at the slightest challenge. Supporting roles offer more, from hunky Garrett Hedlund's Mormon virgin to Dermot Mulroney's effectively restrained and welcomely subdued take as a veterinarian widower.
All struggle with the confusing and jumbled path which shuffles towards, not so much a satisfying conclusion as simply an end point. Balancing drama and comedy is difficult at the best of times, but juggling light-hearted jokes (essentially making fun of Mormons) and strong chick flick drive with serious issues of incestual sexual abuse and parental psychological scarring feels awkward at the best of times - more often it's just plain depraved and twisted.