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At The Movies: Rule it Out: Georgia Rule **

Spoiler Alert: The last paragraph gives away a major plot point.

Garry Marshall is a good director for many reasons. He is particularly good with certain kinds of female characters, not so great with others. Although he seeks to take on darker material, that material somehow manages to turn schmaltzy. It’s as if in Garry Marshall’s world, there are no eternally lonely people, nor broken toys that will never be fixed – somewhere there is a silver lining to every dark cloud.

A few times in his career he’s taken a misstep by trying to direct a film that is beyond his scope. It isn’t even that it’s beyond it, but rather living in a different neighborhood from it. One such film was Frankie and Johnny, which starred a miscast Michelle Pfeiffer as a supposedly ugly waitress. Another film is Georgia Rule, his most recent and one of his worst.

Georgia Rule is the kind of movie that makes me feel stupid to be a woman. No, it wasn’t written nor directed by a woman (thank God?), but it hovers around that “woman movie” territory that makes us all look like we are only interested in ogling muscular men and crying while quilting. This genre of women’s movies boasts such winners as Riding in Cars with Boys, Something’s Gotta Give, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days – you get the drill.

For the record, women do have brains along with tear ducts and mammary glands. Georgia Rule stars older women, which is a step in the right direction, or could be if they weren’t ridiculous unbelievable clichés. Jane Fonda plays Georgia, who is supposed to have set out the said “rules” in order to make life something she could understand.

The whole movie should have been about Georgia. Next we have Felicity Huffman chewing scenery right and left (good God, someone please tell the woman that she is not on stage and that for film you have to underplay) as an alcoholic, out-of-touch mom whose daughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) has become so impossible to control she’s being sent to live with Georgia.

But little by little, the dark family secret trickles out. And when it does, it throws the whole film off. We were already set up for it to be a typical Garry Marshall women’s movie – you know, no heavy lifting, funny characters, and then they throw this doozy at us. It is beyond the film’s capacity and certainly beyond Lohan’s capacity as an actress.

It’s a shame, too, because the part of Rachel is to die for with the right actress. Someone like Natalie Portman or Sarah Polley could have knocked this out of the park. Lohan is more suited to comedy than to drama. But drama, hard, dark drama, is what is needed to tell the real story here.

Even if you take away the gossip surrounding Ms. Lohan’s late-night partying antics that led to her very public warning, you’re still left with a girl whose private life has completely upstaged her acting talent. It is impossible to see Lindsay Lohan playing a part without thinking, “It’s Lindsay Lohan!”

It doesn’t help that they have her always “done.” Her hair, makeup, clothing – always fashionable and way too confident for a character that is supposed to be so damaged.

It’s easy to see why these women wanted to do this movie – it’s three juicy parts to sink their teeth into. Felicity Huffman had a great opportunity that seemed to somehow miss. Jane Fonda is capable of so much more.

At a time when there are less and less great parts for older American actresses, it’s a shame that this film, with these women, wasn’t better handled. Even though Garry Marshall softened prostitution with Pretty Woman, there is really no way to soften child molestation and find a happy ending. It may be weepy, but the tears feel cheaply earned.

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