The Garry Marshall-directed "Georgia Rule" starred Lindsay Lohan, whose personal problems overshadowed the complicated, strange politics of the 2007 film.
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz, courtesy of Getty Images
This Week in 2007 is a weekly column looking back on Lindsay Lohan, the first iPhone, George W. Bush, and everything else we loved about the year 2007.
At the end of the Bush Era family comedy Georgia Rule, Rachel, portrayed by then-it girl Lindsay Lohan, sinks into a beige couch across from the titular character, played by Hollywood royalty Jane Fonda. Georgia encourages her granddaughter Rachel to press rape charges against her stepfather, Arnold, and reveal his crime to Rachel's mother and Georgia's daughter, Lily (Felicity Huffman). Rachel worries. She already told Lily, and she took her husband's side. "What makes you think she'll believe me now?" Rachel asks. Georgia brushes her off: "We'll make her!"
Thus begins probably the only rape comedy car chase. Georgia rides shotgun while Rachel's Mormon boyfriend, Harlan, slows his pickup truck in front of Arnold and Lily's rental car on the road from Utah to San Francisco. In the back of the truck, Rachel lays behind a load of wood, waiting to surprise her rapist.
Today, with perhaps Hailee Steinfeld taking Lindsay's role, the scene would inspire dozens of op-eds. (Lady Gaga would probably write a song for the closing credits.) But controversy prevented Georgia Rule from inspiring those conversations. Executive producer James G. Robinson wrote a scathing letter to Lindsay, calling her excuses for missing work bullshit, and leaked the memo to the press in July 2006.
Read more: How 2007 Became a Meme
"You and your representatives have told us that your various late arrivals and absences from the set have been the result of illness; today we were told it was 'heat exhaustion,'" he wrote. "We are well aware that your ongoing all night heavy partying is the real reason for your so called 'exhaustion.'" Robinson later claimed that Lindsay cost the production an extra $375,000 per day, and he wrote the letter to teach her a lesson.
The decision misfired. When the film was released ten years ago this week, journalists asked Lindsay and Jane about his remarks on the red carpet, and critics presumed the movie was a bomb.
It flopped. Which sucks because beyond the controversy, Georgia Rule was a fascinating, albeit very flawed, family comedy about how three generations of women handle sexual assault—and proof that Lindsay's talent could have made her the 21st century equivalent of a classic Hollywood star.
Lindsay Lohan was a budding peer of Meryl Streep.
In the context of Lindsay's multiple trips to Los Angeles courthouse, it's easy to forget that she built the template for teens stars transitioning to Oscar bait. She followed up Herbie Fully Loaded with a performance as Meryl Streep's daughter in Robert Altman's final movie, A Prairie Home Companion in 2006—a strategy that Emma Stone would later perfectly implement, jumping from Easy A to The Help to eventual Oscar glory in La La Land.
Lindsay took it an extra step, gracing the pages of W magazine with Meryl for a feature called "Two Queens." The message: Lindsay was more than a young ingenue. She was a budding peer of Meryl Streep. Even a 2006 New York Times styles profile proclaimed, "What if you took someone with Britney Spears's unfailingly wrong instincts about her image, tossed in a dollop of Meryl Streep's talent and gave her flowing red hair that morphed on a moment's notice to deepest black or fairest blond? You'd end up with a pretty good facsimile of Lindsay Lohan."
To her detriment, Lindsay lacked Emma Stone's taste. Along with Georgia Rule, she selected a buzzed-about supporting role in 2007's Chapter 27, a biopic of John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman. It premiered at Sundance, but after an onslaught of negative reviews, went straight to DVD. (Jared Leto, who played Chapman, did later win an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club.)
Georgia Rule, of course, was not meant to make Lindsay an awards darling. For one, Lindsay is not and never will be a character actress. Even in A Prairie Home Companion, she plays a precocious young artist, in this case a poet but nonetheless very similar to Lindsay Lohan. Like Judy Garland, she always plays a version of herself and lets her real life reputation, and pain, set in. Georgia Rule positioned her as a contemporary of Hollywood heavyweights. She was playing the granddaughter of Jane Fonda and daughter of Felicity Huffman (straight off her Oscar nomination for Transamerica) in a comedy written by Academy Award-nominated As Good As It Gets screenwriter Mark Andrus and helmed by Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall. The film was premiering Mother's Day weekend and was poised to prove Lindsay's box office might during the busy summer movie season.
The problem was that Garry shot the film at both the apex of Lindsay's acting career and the start of her party girl reputation. Lindsay still had a clean record, but magazines were speculating about her nightlife antics and weight. After Garry read tabloid reports, he sat Lindsay down, according to an Access Hollywood interview. "Are you gonna yell at me?" she asked. He rebuffed her: "I'd like to come [clubbing] with you!"
Lindsay agreed. They went partying in Los Angeles, starting their evening with Lindsay's friends at Koi, the Kitson of restaurants whose sticky rice with spicy tuna is synonymous with the 2000s. Garry showed up wearing velcro sneakers. Lindsay freaked out: "We don't have velcro here!" He agreed to hide his feet under the table, and Lindsay later bought him new shoes.
You do not put the lord's name in vain, and you don't touch little girls!
Like Lindsay, Garry was straddling two worlds. Georgia Rule was at once both a rape drama and a standard, mid-budget Hollywood family comedy. Garry brought the world The Princess Diaries just six years earlier, and had a proven track record of turning adult subject matter into comedic family fare: On paper, a romantic comedy about a hooker produced by the Walt Disney Company sounds disastrous, but his direction made Pretty Woman a modern classic.
Georgia Rule is no Pretty Woman but as A.O. Scott writes in his New York Times review, "It's an interesting, maddening mess—not a terrible movie, and by no means a dull one... the movie really belongs to Fonda and Lohan, actresses whose formidable skill is often underestimated and overshadowed by off-screen notoriety."
The film opens like a Garry Marshall film set in 2007. Rachel, played by Lindsay, has jumped out of her mother's car on the journey from San Francisco to her grandma Georgia's house in Utah. She wears a white dress and gold bangles around her wrist; she looks like she walked out of 2000s stylist Rachel Zoe's lookbook. It's unclear why they are fighting, but Rachel hates her mother Lilly, and Lilly hates her mother Georgia. They are three generations of women divided.
Lily speeds to Georgia's house anyway. After Rachel hitches a ride from the Mormon boy Harlan, she arrives in the middle of the night. Georgia refuses to feed her; dinner is always at 6 PM in her house. "Georgia rule!" she yells, as she does throughout the film after listing her commandments. Rachel teases, "Try and jerk me around, grandma," but Georgia dismisses her: "Go fuck yourself."
It's the mix of tough love and edgy humor that Garry knows how to milk. He follows it with a shot of Rachel lying on the couch. "No goodnight kiss?" she asks her grandma. She's being sarcastic with a hint of longing. Her freckle-covered, plump face looks like something out of the 1930s; it's hard to imagine any contemporary Oscar-bait actress appearing as vulnerable or captivating. Lindsay will never be remembered as one of America's greatest thespians, but she will always be one of Hollywood's best movie stars.
Like any pop culture relic of 2007, Georgia Rule transcends appropriate taste. Rachel tackles a child in the front yard. Georgia sprays her white shirt with a hose to get her off the boy, but he pops an erection. "You don't get a boner in a battle!" Rachel shouts. The suggestion of sexual tension between Lindsay and a young boy is too unsettling to provoke laughter, but Lindsay commits to the moment. She exclaims, "God!" on the lawn. Georgia drags Rachel inside to wash her mouth with a bar of soap for using God's name in vain. Rachel fights back, but Lindsay the actress seeps through. Her eyes, her skin, her Los Angeles energy all show her reveling in the fight.
A few scenes later, Rachel blows a Mormon teenager. His female friends bully her, and she threatens them: "If you call me a name ever again, I will find all of your boyfriends and fuck them stupid." The scene is jarring in the wake of the family comedy vibe, and things get even creepier when Rachel reveals to the family vet that her stepfather, Arnold, raped her.
The film seems to suggest that Rachel seeks multiple sexual partners because of the assault, and some scenes present her as unwell. She spends much of the movie going back and forth between accusing Arnold and claiming she lied, but the film presents a more nuanced conclusion in the third act: Rachel admits she feels conflicted because she doesn't want to upset her mother by telling her about being raped by her stepfather. The logic and flip-flopping is shaky, but Lindsay's performance makes Rachel's choices appear logical.
In a narrative device that could only happen in a Garry Marshall family film, the rape unites the family. Rachel and her grandmother Georgia soar in the final minutes when they strike back against her attacker. Georgia shoves a bar of soap at Arnold. "Put this in your mouth and drive... You do not put the lord's name in vain, and you don't touch little girls!" she yells before attacking his car with a bat. He heads to the motel where Rachel is residing and offers to pay for her counseling, along with the gift of his Ferrari.She counteroffers him: If he doesn't hand her a $10 million check, she will release a video she secretly filmed when he was assaulting her. "You're thrusting. I'm 14," she threatens.
The film ends where it starts: on the road that connects Utah to California. Inside his rental car, Arnold explains to his wife why he abandoned his Ferrari in the small Utah town where Georgia resides: "Rachel can have the car." Lily freezes. In a shot straight out of a silent film, realization creeps across her face.
"Pull over!" Lily screams. Arnold zooms onto the side of the desert road. She jumps out and runs in the opposite direction of traffic, just as Rachel does at the beginning of film. He tosses her Louis Vuitton luggage into the sand to get her attention, but she doesn't care. He yells, "She seduced me!" Lily stops. She chases after him, clapping her heels into the rocky road, and slams her purse against his face. "You're going to jail, you sick bastard!" she screams. She kicks her Louis Vuitton suitcase. "You can bet on it, pervert!"
He escapes her grasp and drives away, leaving her to die in the desert. But moments later, she comes across the pickup truck: Harlan parks the car and Lily jumps out. Mother and daughter run toward each other. They cry, they kiss, they embrace.
It's magical. Where sexual assault often divides families, it unites these three women. Family rape crises rarely end this way. Georgia Rule. It's something that can only happen in the movies.