Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
First off, we're not in the state of Georgia, we're in the little (and fictitious) town of Hull, Idaho where grandma Georgia lives and rules. Living under her roof, we will see, is no walk in the park. So why does Garry Marshall's sex... uh, er, romantic comedy begin with grandaughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) walking out on the highway leading into town, with mother Lilly (Felicity Huffman) in the car urging the miscreant back inside? It's to show what Georgia will be contending with for the next 110 minutes.
When Lilly finally gives up and drives off, leaving her willful daughter on the highway, Rachel lays down in the shade of a sign and goes to sleep. She's discovered by local hottie Harlan (Garrett Hedlund) who slides his truck to a stop and wonders if he's found a corpse. But, she awakens just when he's feeling for a pulse above her boobs. Oh, yes, that's where the heart is. And, though she rides him for his nerve and pluckiness, she's got him marked as a candidate for another kind of ride.
Rachel, you see, is a bit of a nymphet, and it's not only because she's from California.
Fortunately for everyone around, the arrival of the problem child isn't coming as a surprise, since grandma has agreed to the arrangement. After all, in her elder years she takes care of a couple of neighborhood tykes for their working parents.
Georgia runs her life and everyone under her roof's with rules -- rules with a logic all her own, which usually produce considerable rebellious muttering. Taking the lord's name in vain, for example, demands the punishment of sticking a bar of soap in your mouth. Georgia rule. Somehow, everyone complies, even the newest member of the household, our luscious Rachel.
Against expectations, Rachel even agrees to take the job Georgia signed her up for at the local veterinarian's. He turns out to be Simon (Dermut Mulroney), the more mature hunk who unwillingly picked her up on the highway and delivered her to Georgia's door when she sent Harlan away. Simon had Rachel and her empowerment games with men pegged from the start.
As she makes her impressions around town, which takes all of a minute or so in the tight-knit community, she does well in the matter of integrating by quickly learning the medical office's routines and range of treatments. At home with Georgia, she even learns to wash dishes. And, she's more than willing to go live with Simon when circumstances drive her out of Georgia's house.
But, true to character, nothing stops her nymphonic nature (I can't bring myself to call her a maniac), turning this into a sex comedy before it takes on more serious hues, such as the background of her life, to explain it. When she goes fishing with Harlan out on the lake, she turns dipping a hook into water into dipping of an altogether different experience. Harlan, a Mormon lad with a future-fiance'-since-childhood is conflicted, but he becomes Rachel's bosom buddy. The original screeplay, it may be relevant to mention here, is by Mark Andrus, a Mormon.
When the promiscuous vixen drops the intel that her father Arnold (with whom mother Lilly is still deeply in love) started molesting her at age 12, all hell, Georgia's wrath, and Lilly's trust break loose. Somehow, relationships are going to change. Fearing the unpredictability of the outfall, Rachel withdraws the accusation and, from there, flits between truth and fantasy until we're convinced she doesn't really know the difference. This babe's not any more a paragon of honesty than of circumspect behavior.
As good as the ensemble is on an individual basis, I struggled with the notion that the three lead actresses were in any way related. Consequently, I had my doubts along in here about Marshall pulling off a credible -- let alone satisfying -- resolution. In the end, he surprised me by delivering a trace of meaning to his family-in-crisis portrait, with more to admire than I suspected possible in the early going.
Lohan is the standout here, with the advantage of lensing by Karl Walter Lindenlaub ("Black Book") which, though generally flat, does justice to her closeups. Huffman, whose character-building brilliance was made evident in "Transamerica" comes in a close second with a part that's strained by the in-and-out nature of her character in the plot. Fonda shows fine, comedic sensibilities despite seeming overly irritable in moments. But she's in such good shape she probably gives a good name to grandmotherhood. (How could she forgive this granddaughter?!).
Hedlund is almost believable as a country naif with a manly bod and Elwes is slickly ideal as the lawyer/molester/husband with the courtside manner of an eel. Mulroney is stalwart and Hector Elizondo (a Marshall dependant) as a townsperson has a great moment of humor that only perfect timing could make delicious.
Marshall's generational family comedies ("The Flamingo Kid," "The Other Sister") don't always enjoy the same level of success, though this one's a keeper. Can't say anything he's done before prepared me for it. With a very spicy Lohan and all the heat she ably and easily generates for the lead character, he makes it memorable from a new angle: the seductress, not a common one in the comedy genre. He pulls it off with enough lightness and good nature to register with a positive balance.
The film's blueness (in an X-rated sense) will turn some faces red, have the guys in the audience panting, and burn Lohan's name into the marquee.
~~ Jules Brenner