Georgia Rule opens with a long, sweeping pan across a rugged, beautiful landscape and the strutting form of Lindsay Lohan. All well and good, so far as it goes, but one thing quickly becomes clear: We are not, contrary to the premise, in Idaho.
The mountains outside Los Angeles were needed as a stand-in to the actual Idaho, whose paltry offerings to the American movie industry aren't worth enough to make a film production set up camp in the Gem State. So, where we might have Idaho, here we have a fabricated road sign that reads "Welcome to Idaho: The Land of the Famous Potato." The landscape where the sign sits looks as much like Idaho as does, say, Mexico.
Lohan has passed out beneath this sign, exhausted after walking away from her mother's Mercedes in a snit. Lohan plays a troubled teen named Rachel with all the problems people pick up in California, at least according to this confused, jumbled film. Californians, we are led to believe, are rich, have lots of drug, alcohol and interpersonal problems, and are prone to zipping to Idaho in their luxury cars at the drop of the hat. In fact, people in this movie are always showing up, their clothes un-rumpled, after driving to Idaho from California.
The story line, until it's abandoned, is about how Rachel is sent to live in fictional Hull, Idaho, with her grandmother Georgia, played by Jane Fonda. Georgia is a tough bird who wears a faded "W.M. Gimlit Hay and Feed" T-shirt, looks like she's done a hell of a lot of Jazzercize in her time, and lives by an unyielding creed known as "Georgia Rules." These include regular mealtimes, no alcohol (the film is loaded with references to Mormon stereotypes) and the insistence that if you take the Lord's name in vain, you will be required to suck on a bar of soap. If you resist, Georgia just might take a baseball bat to your Ferrari.
The first person Rachel meets is Harlan Wilson (Garrett Hedlund), a dumb Mormon hunk who is about to discover that non-Mormon girls like platform heels and oral sex. Harlan would be Rachel's Galahad if she were willing to lower herself to his simpleton's plane. Shortly after he lurches into her life, she meets Simon, a set of eyebrows and principles played by Dermot Mulroney. He takes Rachel into town in his brand-new Mustang (does anyone drive a boring car in "Idaho?") and settles into a place that many in this film must inhabit: the Unresolved Subplot.
Never mind the rest of the film. Lohan does her best playing someone who resembles a tabloid dream. She's an uncontrollable force of nature, while Fonda is a well-oiled set of repressed machinery. Theirs are the best exchanges: "You don't look evil," Rachel says to Georgia. "Makeup helps," Georgia replies.
The film lurches from a funny wild-child-meets-country-wisdom story to an almost-serious tale of repressed sexual abuse by Rachel's stepfather, an overweight Carey Elwes, who looks like the Dread Pirate Wesley lost interest in working hard for his treasure.
But the extent to which the filmmakers try to emulate Idaho is touching, in an offhand way. There are even Basques in this film. A character with an unpronounceable name (it sounds as if there are plenty of x's in it) insists, to his doctor, that despite his hernia, "I have to lift. I'm Basque." His accent, and that of his daughter's, suggests that the Basques are rather recent arrivals to "Idaho." There are references to Ezra Pound, there are Indians and there is a highway sign that reads, "Boise, Idaho 54 miles." People are simple and friendly (one scene shows Rachel trying her damndest to coolly strut the streets of Hull while the locals insist on saying "Hi" to her).
One of Georgia's rules is that "Everyone is saveable." I hope she's right. Idaho's image took a few hits with this film, but there's some comfort here. The movie is so bad that, with any luck, our "role" will be as forgettable and unremarkable as the film itself.