Lindsay Lohan's performance in "Georgia Rule" qualifies as a kind of instant redemption — career-wise, at least — following the young actress' notorious misbehavior during the film's production last year. It was then that producer James G. Robinson had to write Lohan a stern (and highly publicized) letter of warning regarding her irresponsible lateness, partying, etc. Now he's going to be sending her flowers for holding her own in an all-star cast of seasoned pros. Yes, she's that good.
Of course, it helps to have veteran director Garry Marshall doing his best work since 1990's mega-hit "Pretty Woman," working from an engaging screenplay by Mark Andrus (his best since "As Good As It Gets") that adroitly juggles well-earned, character-based comedy with a compassionate understanding of child molestation, alcoholism and the destructive emotional legacies that dysfunctional families bury under layers of regret and denial.
Lohan brings real depth to her role as Rachel, the sexually assertive, seriously messed-up daughter of wealthy San Franciscans Lilly (Felicity Huffman, excellent as always) and Arnold (Cary Elwes). They've had it with Rachel's lies, manipulations and pre-college screw-ups, so they banish her for the summer to the small, Mormon-town Idaho home of her estranged grandmother Georgia (superbly played by Jane Fonda, looking more and more like her father), whose well-ordered widowhood suggests a long history of squeezing lemonade from very sour lemons.
While Marshall carefully injects his trademark humor into this volatile family dynamic, Andrus does a near-perfect job of charting three generations' worth of suppressed familial anguish, never losing track of the unique love that binds mothers and daughters when husbands fall way short of their fatherly ideals.
"Georgia Rule" gets predictably and conveniently tidy when dealing with the good men (Dermot Mulroney, Garrett Hedlund) who promise brighter futures for Rachel and Lilly, and the film's equal-opportunity gibes at "California" values and Mormon piety are more than a little condescending.
But as an acting showcase — the supporting roles are as rich as the leads — "Georgia Rule" is undeniably one of the year's best American dramedies.
With her smoky voice, bad-girl attitude and come-hither appeal, Lohan can forge a stellar career or become the Elizabeth Ashley of her generation, settling into character roles that capitalize on her strengths. Either way she wins, and with "Georgia Rule," so do we.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com
Showtimes and trailer
"Georgia Rule," with Lindsay Lohan, Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, Dermot Mulroney, Garrett Hedlund, Cary Elwes. Directed by Garry Marshall, from a screenplay by Mark Andrus. 113 minutes.
Rated R for sexual content and some language.