This post originally appeared at WIMN's Voices: A Group Blog on Women and the Media, a project of Women In Media & News, the national women's media analysis, education and advocacy group.
I attended the premiere of the Jane Fonda/ Lindsey Lohan/ Felicity Huffman dramedy Georgia Rule last night, and I came away conflicted. As is unfortunately the case with so many meaty stories watered down through the Hollywoodification process, this film seemed to be scared of the movie it was supposed to be. It seemed to come off as two movies: one, the fluffy, frothy, harmlessly amusing chick flick director Garry Marshall is known for, and the other, a dark, complex discussion of the ways that the tentacles of childhood sexual abuse wrap around the emotional, physical, sexual, interpersonal and familial aspects of a survivor's life.
Oh, yeah, that's right, I mentioned childhood sexual abuse. Didn't know that's what Georgia Rule is really about? Not surprising, if you've seen the trailers, TV commercials or the promotional materials its studios, Universal & Morgan Creek, have created to make sure audiences have no idea that Georgia Rule might break the first and foremost rule of Hollywood: never make them think... but, if you absolutely must engage audiences' brains, by all means, don't tell them in advance!
The result is a very pink, soft-music, stereotypically cheesy marketing blitz (for example, a huge poster of the smiling faces of the film's telegenic female stars is captioned by the tagline "Mother. Daughter. Grandmother. In this family, attitude doesn't skip a generation") that ensures that no one who goes to this movie will be prepared for the actual content of the film -- including victims of incest and rape who could be emotionally triggered by certain scenes.
Among the best things about this film is the fact that the three strong female leads are given mostly (or, at least moderately) meaty roles. Jane Fonda is strong and dynamic as the most well-written character of the film - a cursing, rule-obsessed grandmother who pulls no punches verbally ("Go fuck yourself," she tells her rebellious granddaughter after not having seen her for thirteen years) or physically (beating an abusive man with a baseball bat when the situation called for it). She makes Georgia real, despite her ridiculously irrelevant rules, where a lesser actress might have delivered a shrill caricature. Felicity Huffman did the best with the material she was given (a depressed drunk who blames her mother for her drinking and can't deal with her girls-gone-wild-esque teenager), and Lindsay Lohan, though strained and pat in the more trite "Look at me, I'm a hot, dangerous girl, and I'm going to screw with a Mormon boy's mind just because I can" scenes, actually turned in a solid and convincing performance as the troubled Rachel when the material turned darker and we learn how she's become who she is.
But the film seemed to be scared of actually getting into that darker material, and while I was viewing it I could actually imagine the network suits handing down script notes like, "Hey, this is a real downer. You gotta lighten this thing up. Throw in some prissy Morman girls to follow Lindsay around, call her a slut, and throw toilet paper at her house. Oh, and Dermott Mulroney's hot -- I know it isn't really part of the story, but can't Felicity make out with him? And... and..."
This is, of course, all my instinct as a media critic upon viewing the flick. I have not read anything about the process, nor did I speak to anyone involved with the movie (though I watched the odd and off-putting phenomenon of paparazzi stalking Lohan and Fonda when they decided to dance together for about three minutes at the premiere after-party). It could be that the film followed the original screenplay to the letter -- but it just felt very much like a watered down version of what it might have been. It's not that I'm against comedic elements, but this story would have benefited from a more sly, intentional comedic aesthetic -- a tone more akin to the satire of Arrested Development, perhaps, or some particularly dark comedy that I can't call to mind at the moment. Instead, the typical tropes thrown in to make viewers more comfortable just tame and distract from, rather than cushion, the heavier material.
I'm trying not to write too much here about the plot or the details, because I don't want to give anything away if you do see it. What I will say is that it's worth watching, not for the half of the movie that is the hollow, breezy chick flick it's being presented as, but for the other half -- the very mainstreamy movie that nevertheless dares to ask questions about the short and long term implications of sexual assault on its victims, and on an entire family.
This film could be used as a springboard to talk with young people about issues of incest and sexual assault -- but that presumes that they know what they're going to see before they see it.
So far, the marketing seems to ensure that won't happen. Maybe feminist bloggers can encourage viewers to see it for the right reasons, and applaud, critique, rip into or appreciate it for the right reasons, too.
As always, feel free to contact WIMN with feedback.