Three noisy women and a worn-out premise rattle around trying to make contact in Georgia Rule, an incoherent dramedy from director Garry Marshall. Marshall's broad comedy has always made him a soft target for critics, but along with his duds (Beaches, Runaway Bride), he's made a few charming women's pictures, among them Frankie and Johnny, the first Princess Diaries, and even the politically reprehensible Pretty Woman. Georgia Rule isn't one of them.
Earnest doesn't become Marshall, who, along with screenwriter Mark Andrus, has gleaned his notions about dysfunctional families from Dr. Phil. Though Georgia Rule's official lost cause is an out-of-control teenager, in the dreary logic of psychobabbling sagas, it quickly emerges that poor social skills and a tenuous grip on reality are equitably distributed among the three generations of high-strung ladies in the family. Rachel (Lindsay Lohan), a wild-and-woolly teen, is dispatched by her lush of a mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), to Idaho -- where it is hoped she will undergo a character makeover at the hand of her rule-bound grandmother, Georgia (Jane Fonda), and a town full of Mormons preaching red-state virtues. Notwithstanding her ramrod back and frequent invocation of the Almighty, Georgia gives as good as she gets, exhorting her grandchild to go fuck herself and stuffing soap into the child's blasphemous mouth as needed.
This is Marshall at his slapstick worst, and the best that can be said for Fonda's role is that it is marginally less gruesome than the manipulative virago she played in Robert Luketic's abysmal Monster-in-Law. Once the expected family skeleton marches out of its closet and the therapeutic blather sets in, there's almost no rescuing this wobbly movie from its showdowns and insights, its tearful embraces and eleventh-hour forgiveness.
Except, that is, when Lohan's around. Beginning with The Parent Trap, there's scarcely been a movie that this gifted young actress hasn't made her own. A self-possessed, vitally carnal, and intelligent screen presence, she can outgun almost any caricature -- including a parody of her own offscreen self -- and as the movie wears on, she deftly holds to Rachel's bravado while slowly unfurling this young woman's bruises and courage. Sullen at having been dumped in Hicksville and put to work in a vet's office, Rachel aims her indiscriminating libido simultaneously at the vet (Dermot Mulroney) and a young Mormon blade (Garrett Hedlund). She stays out late, lies -- maybe -- through her teeth, and creates mayhem wherever she goes. So, yes, Georgia Rule might profitably be retitled The Lindsay Lohan Story, but peeking out from all the strutting and preening is a strong, decent person in the making. With luck, that same person may yet rise up to deliver Lohan from her offscreen antics, before she wrecks her career and her life.