Directed by Garry Marshall
At the start of the film we meet the irrepressible Rachel and her distraught mother, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), on their way to Idaho where Rachel is due to work out her teenage rebellion with her even more defiant grandma, Georgia (Jane Fonda). Georgia is known for her “rules” for which there are to be no exceptions, and a consequence of which is her strained relationship with her own daughter who fled to escape her mother’s strict life code. When Rachel arrives in the small town, she immediately sets out to assert her aggressive, sexpot attitude with Georgia and all the locals. Both the town and her family start experiencing shakeups, but of course, it’s all with the sort of sugary sparkle that guarantees a happy ending.
It’s the weird tone that most dooms this movie. This is the sort of material that takes very precise, pitch-perfect acting and directing to pull off and this film just doesn’t have that. It’s a hit and miss fiasco in every sense. At times, I was absolutely livid at its stupidity and forced melodrama and then, at other times, I found it strangely touching and biting in all the right ways. If only it could have resolved its messiness, it might have worked. But it didn’t, and it doesn’t. The best I can say is that it’s a memorable failure and certainly never dull.
The performances here are as confounding and half-hearted as everything else about the movie. Each member of the cast has moments in which they crackle with inspiringly vivid life and texture, but also others where they feel forced or wholly detached from what they’re doing. Lohan, in particular, comes off as clueless and inconsistent, and even though that unperfected, natural edge sometimes works to her advantage, it generally seems to be her own undoing. How many more chances will she get to “prove herself” as a serious actress? This probably is her best performance yet, mostly because her character is closer to her actual personality than any other that she’s ever played. Let’s be honest, no one really believed her in the overly adorable roles she undertook in the teen films of her past, and seeing her play a nasty bitch is deeply satisfying. When she syncs up with Rachel, she catches a great nuance that only someone of the current party girl generation could capture. She’s strong-willed and yet very desperate, begging through her bad behavior to be stopped, cut off, scolded, or any such thing that might finally save her from herself. Lohan’s own recklessness seeps into the performance and comes through quite visibly in her tired eyes and chameleonic appearance. If you look closely, you’ll notice that from moment to moment, scene to scene, her hair will be different colors ranging from all red to pure blonde. She also shuffles through skin tones as well. There’s about 4 or 5 shades of orangey spray tan on display throughout the film and none of the switches make any sort of logical sense. She’ll be walking down the street looking pale and then in the mere minutes it takes to reach her destination, she’s completely tanned. It’s as if she wasn’t even aware she was making a movie at the time, shifting casually from nightclub to soundstage and bringing her ragged, over-abused waif-like body along for the clumsy ride. There’s passion in her work, but it’s wholly unprofessional and wildly flawed.
The movie somehow ends up being a weepy, life affirming story about the importance of family and the power of stubborn women, but everything in between feels awfully bleak to have such an outcome. Of course, I mean bleak in content alone. No matter what the tragedy, the movie is shiny as ever in terms of its look and feel. Marshall shoots a “My dad raped me!” scene in the same vaguely beautiful way he shoots an “I love you” scene. It’s part of the greater identity crisis that plagues the whole film. It takes magic to make melodrama feel like truth and this film just never quite gets around to pulling the rabbit out of its hat.
The Bottom Line: