Kiki Penoyer tears into Garry Marshall’s tonally incongruous and atrocious “charming uplifting sex abuse comedy” (as she described over email), but leaves some praise for Lindsay Lohan’s performance during her well-publicized “rough time” in her life/career.
Full disclosure: I have seen this movie exactly one time prior to this viewing, and I remember nothing about it other than not really liking it but not remembering why. I picked it because following the rise and fall of the teen stars that were relevant to my youth is A Thing for me on this blog, and this is widely considered to be The Movie That Ended Lindsay Lohan’s Career. One reporter went so far as to refer to it as her Gigli. Fightin’ words, y’all. And also because I distinctly remember watching it late at night on YouTube while drowsy on meds for my horrifying Upper Respiratory Infection, and I am currently shaking loose said infection’s Tenth Anniversary Revival Tour.
Perhaps the most telling part of that story is that I remember the illness and the circumstances surrounding my viewing, but not the movie itself. I wondered initially if that might be because the movie is bad. And don’t worry: it’s bad. Rotten Tomatoes believes it’s only deserving of a “17%.” (For context, the much-maligned Suicide Squad only went as low as a 25%.) But Georgia Rule isn’t just bad because it’s bad; it’s bad because everyone involved clearly thought they were making one movie, when in reality, it was something completely different.
Let me share with you some context. The original website for this movie (which is, amazingly, still active and can be viewed here) bills it as follows: “Georgia Rule is the lively, inspiring tale of three generations of women finding that the ties that bind are stronger than the tests of time.”
Now, if you please, I’d like you to watch the original trailer with me. It’s only two minutes, and it’s important for you to be with me on this.
Y’all heard this, yes? A feel-good movie of ‘three generations of women,’ featuring three generations of hot-button stars—Lindsay Lohan for the teen crowd, Jane Fonda for the older ladies, and a Desperate Housewife for everyone in the middle. It came out right around Mother’s Day, it was directed by the guy behind The Princess Diaries, it sounds exactly like the kind of thing you catch with your mom as a Sunday matinee, laugh about a little bit, feel good, then promptly forget on your way to Red Robin. Charming, upbeat, about mother-daughter relationships, ultimately harmless, something you can watch with your mom and not feel awkward. You know: A Mom Com.
In reality, Georgia Rule, and the controversy surrounding it, offer eerily parallel narratives about the ways women and girls in crisis are unheard in their cries for help, and what happens when a support system completely fails someone who desperately needs it.
This is your official CW for discussions of sexual assault and serious victim-blaming, which is basically all this entire movie is about.
On-screen, the story is about 17-year-old Rachel, whom we learn via bad Playwriting 101 Exposition is being shipped off for the summer to stay with Georgia, the grandmother she hasn’t seen in 13 years. Rachel, who supposedly has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, recently crashed the Mustang her stepfather gave her, and her mother, Lily, can apparently no longer put up with her behavior and would rather pawn her child off on the mother she hates (for reasons which are never actually articulated) than attempt to discern why her daughter might be engaging in these risk-taking behaviors. Georgia has many “rules,” which the title suggests would be super important, but they’re really basic shit like “Wash your dishes when you’re done with them” and “Don’t cheat at cards.” Over the course of the next two hours, Rachel will open up about the sexual abuse she received as a younger teen, then recant, then admit it again, then recant, then re-admit; meanwhile, her mother and stepfather will insist she is a terrible liar, Georgia will enable everyone’s bad habits, and Rachel will sexually assault the only friend she’s made in town, possibly because (at her own admission) that’s the only way she knows how to show affection.
This is not a cheerful Mom Com. But the awful thing is that I think maybe it’s trying to be? Everything, from the marketing scheme to the cringey one-liners to the weirdly cheerful soundtrack, suggests that this was intended to be a light-hearted and uplifting story with one vaguely dark underlying theme—but a theme which is really just there to help characters come closer together in the moment, but not one that we need to take particularly seriously. To that end, there are three important things we need to talk about with this movie.
- The language surrounding sexual abuse.
- The way people talk about Rachel vs. the way Rachel actually is.
- The way every single adult in this movie fails Rachel really horribly, particularly where boundaries are concerned—and the way that this echoes the real-life story of Lindsay Lohan.
POINT THE FIRST:
It’s important for you to know that the screenwriting in this movie is really, really bad. My friend Cortney (whom I bullied into watching this movie with me via Skype, and shoutout to her for actually sticking with it for me) described it as, “This movie is like a kid cold-reading his script hoping someone will pick it up, but he’s going SO FAST, and then at the end he’s like ‘What did you think?’ And you’re like, ‘Uhhhh it was…something….?’” It’s awkward, it’s melodramatic, it’s poorly paced, it’s full of the kind of exposition that completely unnecessary because all the characters involved in the conversation ALREADY KNOW ALL OF THIS SO WHY ARE WE SAYING IT, and such terrible lines as “I don’t like to talk.” / “Good. I don’t like to listen.”
The other thing you need to know is that this screenwriter is a dude, the director is a dude, and of the production team, there are three dude executive producers, two dude regular producers, and only ONE lady co-producer. This might go a long way toward explaining the SUPER problematic language and storytelling choices we have here.
We’re like maybe fifteen minutes in when Rachel first flips us into This Is Not A Comedy Land, casually dropping the phrase, “I was twelve years old when my stepfather first started having sex with me” (emphasis mine.) She describes it this way a lot, including a later discussion where she admits that she “hated the sex,” but that when he held her, it was the only time she felt loved. When we meet said stepdad and he finally tells his side of the story, he becomes an almost cartoonishly villainous man, screaming at his wife that “she seduced me” and insisting that “she enjoyed it.” Unfortunately, the gross victim-blamey language isn’t limited to the villain of the story: Lily herself—LITERALLY THE WORST MOTHER EVER—also later blames Rachel for it, insisting her sudden relapse into heavy drinking is “Because you slept with my husband.” WOW NOPE NOT HOW THAT HAPPENED HAPPENED AND HOW DARE YOU.
I will back up for a second and admit that this is, unfortunately, not an inaccurate depiction of how these conversations often go in the real world. We assign agency to young women and girls only when we want to villainize them. Rachel is described as “out of control” for the first third of the film, but when her mother discovers Arnold is a rapist, her reasoning is not, “Your stepfather is a fucking rapist”; it’s “You slept with my husband.” Suggesting that a TWELVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL had all the power in the situation and exercised it accordingly—even though Lily (and ultimately, Georgia) also believe Rachel is incapable of exercising power over her own impulses when it comes to drinking, driving, or boys her own age. This is the same argument used by child abusers all the time—“She seemed so much older,” “She’s 14 but mentally she’s a woman,” or whatever the fuck. For a much better articulation of this concept, please see Maggie McMuffin’s excellent review of Hard Candy for this very blog.
So could this be, you ask, a startlingly realistic portrayal of the hurdles that abuse survivors have to face in order to tell their stories, packaged in an innocuous-looking Mom Com wrapper so people would show up and be forced to confront horrid truths about their world? The sad thing is, if it is, it’s doing it totally on accident. How do I know? I’LL TELL YOU.
Rachel herself, unfortunately, goes on to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, forcibly bullying Harlan, The Only Boy In Town Apparently, into first putting his hand on her thigh and then sitting back while she ignores his pleas for her to stop and instead forces a blowjob on him. While it’s clear that she initiates the blowjob to turn attention from herself when she becomes suddenly uncomfortable with him touching her (obviously a defense tactic she’s developed to keep Arnold’s hands at bay), it is still 10000% sexual assault. Harlan is trapped in a rowboat in the middle of a lake with no escape route, he repeatedly tells her he’s not comfortable with her advances, he tries to bring up both his current girlfriend and his Mormon faith as reasons he’d prefer not to have sex with her, he even uses the phrase “We should stop” VERY CLEARLY, and yet Rachel insists on continuing. Straight. Up. Sexual. Assault. Harlan, very confused and upset by what happened, comes by her house later and insists that she go with him to tell his girlfriend about what happened, to which an angry Rachel replies that he should thank her—and for which she later blames him, by saying, “Maybe I was just looking for someone to say no. And I thought you were it.” Harlan is clearly torn up about the whole thing, and at first I would like to applaud the storytelling for bringing up the discussion of the ways women can and do assault men, but the last line of the movie is a dumbly grinning Harlan telling Georgia he’s in love with Rachel and would like to marry her, so like. I have a lot of questions about the intent of this.
POINT THE SECOND:
WOW this movie is full of everybody talking shit about Rachel and slut-shaming the fuck out of her. Example One: As the first of a series of alarmingly bad decisions, Georgia gets Rachel a job working as a receptionist for the local veterinarian, Simon, a lonely widower and Lily’s ex-boyfriend (more on this later.) In spite of repeated assertions that Rachel is SUPER IRRESPONSIBLE AND LIKE SOOOO UNRELIABLE, she consistently shows up on time, is very good at the job, and handles the patients better than Dr. Simon. Rachel actually proves (in literally the most heavy-handed and boring way, because fuck this screenplay, but still) time and again to be perfectly intelligent, an avid reader, and a caring person in general—and yet her mother insists on referring to her repeatedly as a selfish, spoiled liar. There is LITERALLY NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS, as Rachel is actually honest to a fault and obeys Georgia’s rules even if she bristles at them at first, and honestly doesn’t seem to be any more difficult than your average teenager going through puberty. Yet we spend a really weird amount of time talking shit about her at every opportunity—including the marketing staff and critics in its initial run, with Entertainment Weekly gleefully proclaiming “Lohan hits a true note of spiteful princess narcissism.” …except?? That??? No???? She?????? Doesn’t??????????????
Also if we could please stop referring to teenage girls (or literally anyone) as “Trouble” just because they wear short skirts, that would be so great.
Seriously, why is this movie called Georgia Rule when Georgia is a woefully secondary character, the ‘rules’ amount to little more than something for Lily to bitch about, and every single line of terrible dialogue in the film is either said by, to, or about Rachel?
POINT THE THIRD.
I’m not a parent. I’m not in a position to offer parenting advice. But it’s painfully clear from the opening moments that Rachel is not the soulless ‘wild child’ everyone around her (and everyone in the marketing team) seems to believe—it should be obvious to EVERYONE that she is in need of, at the very least, a listening ear. Her interactions with complete strangers—making inappropriate advances on people the moment she meets them, shouting outlandish sexual comments within earshot of others when she isn’t getting her way, attempting to seduce much older men (often in public and often repeatedly)—can’t possibly be the first time she’s exhibited this behavior; as her mother, why has Lily never thought to check in on WHY her daughter is so invasive of other people’s boundaries? Is it perhaps, idk, that she’s been TAUGHT THIS BEHAVIOR BY THE OTHER ADULT IN THE HOME?
Even that aside, I have some serious questions for the adults in Rachel’s life. Who thinks it’s a good idea to send a girl to go work for her mother’s still-pining ex-boyfriend? At BEST that will be an awkward situation for everyone. When Rapist Stepdad comes to visit, why do we all just stand around and let him address her and then let her walk off alone into the distance RATHER THAN FOLLOW HER AND ENSURE SHE ISN’T IN ANY DANGER AFTER HAVING UNEXPECTEDLY CONFRONTED HER MOLESTER? Why does Georgia buy Lily a ton of alcohol and let her get drunk in the house, knowing she has an alcohol problem and that it led to Rachel having to fend for herself as a little girl, rather than go after her granddaughter and ensure Rapist Stepdad hasn’t tried to find her for himself? After this whole ordeal, when Lily (albeit temporarily) decides to return to Arnold and disregard her daughter’s story, WHY WOULD YOU DRIVE AROUND WITH RACHEL HANGING OUT UNSECURED IN THE TRUCK BED WHEN YOU KNOW SHE’S A SELF-HARM RISK WHO HAS PURPOSELY CRASHED HER OWN CAR BEFORE???
And also NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES FOR THIS GIRL. She is being sent to Georgia’s home, allegedly, because Georgia is so good at structure—the very first Georgia Rule she imposes is refusing to feed her hungry granddaughter who just arrived, but she does so in this way: “We eat at six. No exceptions. Oh, there are apples on the table.” Sounds like a fucking exception to me, doesn’t it, Georgia? Then, somehow, in spite of the fact that he’s still lowkey obsessed with her mother, and in spite of her repeated attempts to seduce him, Dr. Simon keeps letting Rachel into his house to hang out with him—and even admits that he has thought about sleeping with her, because she “make[s] it hard not to” (more blame, huzzah) even KNOWING SHE IS HIS EX’S UNDERAGE DAUGHTER. Like. Come the fuck on, dude. You know she’s battling some demons and visibly grappling with the reality of her circumstances, and you straight-up tell her you’ve considered contributing to her abuse? CAN WE NOT?
Through all this, rather than try earnestly to help her, all anyone does is treat her like a petulant child, there for their amusement. Lily jokes that her daughter is easy to find—“Just listen for the scream”…played for HORRIFYING LAUGHS in the trailer, seeing as she’s screaming because she wakes up to find a stranger with his hand on her chest, so what does that tell us about how seriously Lily takes Rachel’s screaming? How many other screams has she written off as melodramatic? When Georgia insists that Rachel eat a bar of soap for taking the Lord’s name in vain when exclaiming her fear during a fight with a neighbor kid (yanno, ~*GEORGIA RULE*~ and all,) Rachel initially refuses and flees; Georgia jests with the neighbors that “She was raised in California,” and everyone gives a knowing little nod. Why is that joke not funny? Because she is fleeing from a younger teenage boy who tackled her in the lawn unexpectedly, wrestled her to the ground, and popped a boner against her leg. This moment is clearly written to be funny, but completely ignores the fact that Rachel might actually have been triggered by this moment and might be escaping for her own mental health, and this grandmother who hasn’t seen her in 13 years and therefore has NO CONTEXT for her upset chooses to believe there’s nothing to it, rather than just, idk, ASKING HER. In order to be welcomed back to the table later, Rachel must humiliate herself with the soap bar and sit down next to this same teenager—who, admittedly, didn’t probably mean to do anything wrong, but who was part of what could’ve been a scary moment for this girl nonetheless—because Rachel’s degradation is funny and she must provide amusement before she may be returned to society.
While in the process of filming this movie, Lindsay Lohan herself was famously going through one of the roughest periods of her career. She was late to (or absent from) at least one or two days of shooting, and required medical attention for dehydration and exhaustion—prompting the release of a now-infamous letter from film producer James G. Robinson, which alleged that Lindsay was “irresponsible and unprofessional,” and which he could have just sent to Lindsay herself (or, idk, had a fucking sit-down with her face-to-face like a damned adult), but instead chose to publish for all the world to see in order to draw media attention. He chastised her for her hospitalization, claiming that it was nothing more than the result of heavy partying. And maybe it was. I don’t know her, I wasn’t with her at the time, I can’t speak to her habits. But this was like her third or fourth time having to go to a fucking hospital for the same concern, once with an added dangerous kidney infection that interrupted the release of her debut album, and once because she was subsisting for weeks on three hours of sleep while being forced to shoot from 5 a.m.-midnight every day and then record from midnight to 2 a.m. every night in order to fulfill a contract with her record label.
Lindsay has been very open about her struggles with drugs and alcohol, as well as the similar struggles shared by her parents, including her time of having to act like a ‘third parent’ when her dad’s drinking would get really terrible and require Lindsay to step in and care for herself and her sister. Rachel shares a very similar series of anecdotes, all about how she had to learn to cook because her mother would often get too drunk, or sharing tips on how to get a plastered Lily up the stairs and into bed. Jane Fonda has an amusing little story about how she once went into the exhausted Lindsay’s trailer and yelled at her to hurry up and finish her makeup, because people are waiting to start filming—when passed off to the news, it ended with the punchline, “She said to her makeup person, ‘Barbarella just yelled at me!’” Jane’s character, Georgia, shares similar sentiments, passing judgment and imposing humiliating rules about Rachel’s language usage and the way she conducts herself. Neither woman seems interested in the reasons behind WHY the younger woman in her life might be struggling to maintain balance. And neither community—whether it’s small-town Idaho or real-life Hollywood—is interested either, preferring to profit from her pain in the form of cheap entertainment, mocking her, tailing her and taking pictures of her (seriously, there’s a scene where the Mormon girls follow Rachel around taking pictures from their car while she’s in Harlan’s truck, which is super fucking insensitive considering Lindsay had been to a fucking hospital the year prior because a cameraman followed her so aggressively that he crashed into her car), spreading gossip about her, and laughing about how ‘out-of-control’ she is, rather than offering her any real help or even showing a shred of human compassion for what might be another human being going through a hard time.
I’m not saying these people wrote a movie that was a thinly veiled opportunity to try and teach Lindsay a lesson or force her to confront her real-life demons through art. I’ve seen directors do it before, and it’s THE FUCKING WORST THING, but I don’t know if that’s what happened here. What I DO know is that we were lured to Georgia Rule under the pretenses of it being uplifting and upbeat, and were instead witness to a horrifying story of a young woman whose life is in a death spiral because no one listens to her cries for help, and at the end, we wrap it all up with a neat ribbon and a voiceover letter about “forgiveness” and Rachel is the one who apologizes to Lily for causing trouble rather than Lily apologizing for routinely not believing or recognizing her daughter’s pain.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not especially “uplifting” to me.
DEFINITELY NOT A MOM COM.
- I was born in Idaho. It’s an absolute wasteland.
- Both Georgia and Lily have really foul mouths, and yet they keep getting on Rachel about it. HMMMMMMMMMMMM.
- Other terrible dialogue: “Just how disturbed are ya?” “I prefer unique.” “How old are you?” “Old enough.” “Old enough for what?” “To disturb you.” Christ.
- This movie actually used the line, “That’s Ezra Pound! The POET!” We fucking know who Ezra Pound is. Calm down.
- “Ah, California. The land of Fruits and Nuts.” My eyes roll into the back of my head so hard I begin speaking in tongues and accidentally summon the Chernabog.
- Minute 20, Cortney goes, “We should’ve turned this into a drinking game. Drink every time they say GEEEEORGIA RUUUUULEEEE.” I was on antibiotics so I can’t drink, but someone lemme know how that works out.
- The painted-ass backdrop at the barbecue is like, 1940s soundstage-level obvious.
- Cary Elwes can’t do an American accent to save his life, and is decidedly un-hot in this movie, and considering he was personally responsible for the sexual awakening of probably most of the people I know (myself included), this is very disconcerting to me.