Okay, so picture this: You’re sitting there watching this rather feeble fish-out-of-water comedy starring Lindsay Lohan as a rebellious teen named Rachel, who’s been sent to live with her sassy grandma (Fonda) in a movie-stereotype small town in Iowa to learn some old-fashioned values. You’ve seen the loveably quirky town residents, you’ve heard some of grandma’s home-spun wisdom (her name’s Georgia, see, and she has lots of rules), and you’re all ready for two hours of clichéd but passable life lessons and wacky situations from the director of Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries.
Then this happens, at about half an hour into the movie: Rachel, who’s already proved herself a degree or two more sexual than your average teen comedy heroine, casually divulges the fact that her stepfather started sexually abusing her when she was 12 years old. This unexpected revelation (for the characters as well as the audience) changes the whole tenor of the film—or at least it should. But director Marshall blithely soldiers on with the city-girl-in-a-small-town hijinks, and Rachel’s past as a serial liar throws the whole sexual-abuse scenario into doubt in an uncomfortable and dramatically unsatisfying manner.
With a different director and a different cast (or at least radically different performances), this could have been an interesting movie exploring serious issues. Marshall, however, is nowhere near up to the task, and the tone is so inconsistent that the only effect it has is to confuse the audience. Are we supposed to laugh when the damaged, sexually predatory Rachel goes down on a dumb local Mormon hunk, who then immediately drives over to apologize to his girlfriend? These desperate acts aren’t funny, but they’re played over and over again for broad humor.
Stuck playing their roles with breezy insincerity, Lohan, Fonda and Huffman (as Rachel’s equally messed-up mom) all come off as incredibly unlikable; between this film and Monster-in-Law, Fonda has built her entire comeback on playing shrewish, domineering older women. But it’s hard to blame her for looking lost in a film that’s clearly as confused as she is.
Lindsay Lohan, Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman
Directed by Garry Marshall