Minow rule: If Hector Elizondo barely makes an appearance in a Garry Marshall film, watch out.
Or, I should say, don’t watch.
Marshall wisely does his best to include the talented Elizondo in every one of his films. If the only place Marshall can find for him is a few seconds on screen as a character with a ponytail and a funny name, the movie is in trouble. Especially when that brief appearance has more class and authenticity than anything else in this uneven mess of a film.
The title refers to the no-questions, no-arguments, no-compromises, no-prisoners edicts handed down by Georgia (Jane Fonda, still looking great in jeans and a t-shirt) to just about everyone, especially her angry daughter Lily (Felicity Huffman) and rebellious granddaughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan).
In what must feel like a reprise of On Golden Pond, where Fonda’s character dumped an unhappy teenager on her parents for the summer so that she could spend time with his father and so that everyone could Learn Important Lessons about Life, Lily dumps Rachel on Georgia for the summer. Let the Life Lessons begin.
Georgia lives in a small town in Idaho, set design seemingly inspired by Norman Rockwell by way of Kinkade. Intended-to-be-cute cuddly little small town moments collide uneasily with grand drama and dysfunctional laundry-airing among and between the three generations of women. What we get are less life lessons than a lot of recrimination and more “you were never there for me” accusations than a week with Dr. Phil.
While she was making this film, Lindsay Lohan received a widely circulated letter of admonishment from the producer for “ongoing all night heavy partying” and missing her call times. Onscreen, she looks uncomfortable and jittery. Her character is supposed to be struggling with desperation, self-hatred, and deep sadness, to be vulnerable and needy. But all she shows us is the character’s anger, which comes across more like brattiness. She can’t let go of the cute thing.
Huffman seems to still be channeling her Transamerica character’s obsession with meticulous attention to external appearances as a cover-up and compensation for internal disarray. Lily is very big on high high heels and just-right clothes and exquisitely tasteful gifts. But she’s a mess and she knows it, even though she tries everything she can — including booze — to help her run away from her insecurity and doubt. Cary Elwes shows up more pudgy than sleek as a big-time, big-city lawyer who may or may not be a very bad guy.
Fonda injects powerful rays of real emotion as often as she can and Dermot Mulroney manages some nice moments as the town vet who is just too darned nice to refuse to treat those adorable townsfolk, doing his best in spite of a cornpone set-up and the tiredest of revelations.
Comedy and drama can combine beautifully as this film’s screenwriter, Mark Andrus, did so well with As Good as it Gets. But this time it just doesn’t work, lurching unevenly back and forth with at least two too many fake-outs that make Rachel seem like the girl who cried wolf. And you know what that means — when she calls, stay home.
Parents should know that this film has a good deal of very mature material, including themes of child sexual abuse and incest. Rachel is sexually provocative and seductive in a number of inappropriate situations involving a young boy, a young man who is engaged and has made a moral and religious commitment to chastity, and an older man. Characters use strong and crude language. A character has a drinking problem and gets drunk. There are references to drug use and tense and emotional confrontations and some mild violence.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Lily was angry with Georgia and why Rachel did not think she could tell Lily the truth.
Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Charms for an Easy Life and Down in the Delta.