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Movie Review

A poster of a smiling woman I once saw urged, "Let's put the fun back in dysfunction." That's a motto taken to heart by a wild teenager named Rachel, who's turned that sarcastic suggestion into her life mission.

We meet the petulant young woman as her mother, Lilly, drives her to spend the summer after high school graduation with her grandmother, Georgia, in the backwater Idaho hamlet of Hull. Georgia is a matriarchal czarina whose legalism drove Lilly from home and into alcoholism. Now Lilly has decided to isolate her headstrong daughter from bad influences back home in San Francisco and subject her to Georgia's rules to see if stern discipline might generate a different outcome.

Ever rebellious, Rachel demands to be let out of the car before they enter town, a wish her conflict-weary mother obliges. And before she ever arrives at Grandma's, Rachel has met young Harlan, a cute-and-virginal Mormon whose spiritual devotion to purity supercharges the teen temptress' seduction; and a kind, middle-aged veterinarian named Simon who lost his wife and son in an accident three years before.

It's not long before Rachel confesses to Simon (whom she ends up working for) that her stepfather, Arnold, began sexually abusing her at age 12. That revelation sets in motion a dramatic series of confrontations between three generations of women. They can't stand each other but they still yearn for love, trust and forgiveness in this story of fierce estrangement, deep dysfunction and, ultimately, redemption.


Positive Elements

Georgia Rule is about learning to accept family members despite the terrible mistakes they may have made. Each of the main characters, Georgia, Lilly and Rachel, have opportunities to admit where they've fallen short, to offer acceptance and to receive it themselves.

A key scene revolves around Lilly confronting Georgia for never saying "I love you." When Georgia replies that her parents never spoke those words to her, and that her rules were the way she tried to show love, Lilly begins to accept her mother for who she is. As she does so, she gains new strength to offer unconditional love to her own deeply damaged daughter. Lilly tells Rachel she loves her and that she shouldn't think any of the abuse she suffered was her own fault. Significantly, Lilly also recognizes that Rachel's inability to discern right from wrong is mostly due to her poor parenting. Lilly eventually admits that she needs to stop drinking as well.

Georgia secures a job for Rachel. And she tells her granddaughter, "You live here, you work." She also tells Rachel that she's proud of her after Rachel finally tells her mom that she's been sexually abused. Rachel quickly recants her sexual abuse story after seeing how much the knowledge of it hurts Lilly. And that leads to Rachel asking Georgia, "Can a lie ever be right?" Georgia unequivocally responds, "No!"

Spiritual Content

Harlan is a conscientious Mormon who's about to go on a two-year mission. He tells Rachel that because of his beliefs, he's never had sex (he's waiting for marriage) or been drunk. After Rachel entices him into sexual activity, he's grief-stricken, confesses to his girlfriend (who's at a Mormon college) and believes the only way to make it right in God's eyes is to marry Rachel. Harlan asks for Rachel's forgiveness. And he talks seriously about his need to repent.

Rachel mocks his beliefs ("Why belong to something so strict that it's boring?"). The film itself doesn't. Harlan earnestly testifies that Mormonism is true, that every person has to believe in something, and that it's important to have faith. Harlan's girlfriend, meanwhile, unleashes a pack of Mormon girls to spy on him and Rachel. And despite the fact that one of them says she'll pray for Rachel, they're depicted as mean-spirited legalists, especially when they call Rachel a "slut."

(It's worth noting here that screenwriter Mark Andrus wrote this story to depict the Mormon lifestyle of rural Idaho where he grew up. According to the film's production notes, Andrus, who was raised in a Mormon home, "hoped to realistically portray that world of deep spiritual devotion, hard work and close family.")

When Rachel asks Simon if he's a Mormon, the veterinarian replies that he's "taking some time off" from the religion; his family's deaths have apparently shaken his faith. Simon tells Rachel that although Georgia isn't a Mormon, she's adopted the religion's strict moralistic code. For her part, Georgia comments that accidents are all in God's hands. She tells first Rachel, then Arnold, not to take the Lord's name in vain. And she threatens to wash Rachel's mouth out with soap for doing so.

Lilly listens to a New-Agey tape that mentions "silent energy." She becomes frustrated with it and tosses it out her car window.

Sexual Content

Talking to her mom, Rachel suggestively describes Arnold's sexual abuse. She also goes to see Arnold (who's come to town to do damage control) in a skimpy outfit, shows her underwear to him and says she won't reveal the truth as long as he keeps her mother happy—and she blackmails him further by revealing she has a videotape of one of their sexual encounters.

Rachel's acting out partially manifests itself in her dressing provocatively in virtually every scene; short skirts, skimpy shirts and dresses, combined with plunging necklines and off-the-shoulder tops, constantly expose skin. Braless outfits are plainly evident in two scenes. Rachel understands how her clothing (or lack thereof) gets men's attention, and she uses her sensuality to manipulate. When Simon doesn't even look at her long, bare legs as she rides in a car with him, she wonders if he's gay.

She also frequently uses suggestive phrases to try to turn men on and/or allude to sex.

Lilly and Arnold roll around in bed; she wears lingerie and he's shirtless. Later, Lilly tangles with Georgia outside (as two young boys watch). Lilly's bathrobe falls off, revealing her skimpy underwear. Then her bra comes off too. (We see her bare back and part of her front as she cups her breasts.) Lilly and Simon, who are old flames, share a long, passionate kiss.

Rachel leans on Simon as they watch TV, just as she said she liked to do with her stepfather. She longs for real, fatherly love from Simon, but that longing inevitably gets confused with sex. Later, Rachel puts on lingerie, gets in bed with Simon and says that she loves him. Simon refuses to take the bait, telling her, "I'm never going to have sex with you. Never." He tells Rachel that her stepfather took everything from her, including her capacity to tell right from wrong and her capacity for trust. Real love, he says, is impossible without trust. Rachel thanks him sincerely for saying no to her sexual advance.

Rachel gets into a wrestling match with a young adolescent (he's perhaps 12), then is horrified when she discovers (and twice comments explicitly upon) his physical arousal.

Unsure of whether Rachel is alive when he finds her sleeping alongside a country road, Harlan puts his hand on her chest looking for a heartbeat. When she awakens, Rachel thinks he's molesting her and asks, inexplicably, "Are you one of those back-country sodomy boys?" After getting to know him a little bit, Rachel tempts Harlan by removing her underwear and asking him to look up her short dress and to touch her. He touches her leg; she unzips his pants. (A dark and shadowy camera shot obscures explicit nudity.) Later she uses slang that informs us that she performed oral sex on him.

Violent Content

Beyond her "fight" with Georgia, Lilly looks through her mother's knife drawer as she fantasizes about killing her husband after she hears about his abuse of Rachel. In Harlan's pickup truck, Rachel chases four Mormon girls, then gets out to confront them. Georgia hits Arnold twice with a baseball bat, once in the legs, once in the stomach. Rachel takes a swing at Lilly with her purse.

Crude or Profane Language

Characters use the f-word twice in a sexual context and once more as an exclamation. The s-word is used about that many times, too. God's and Jesus' names are taken in vain at least a dozen times (including three pairings of "god" with "d--n"). A handful of other milder vulgarities are uttered also. Rachel calls her mother a "b--ch." Lilly calls her husband a "b--tard."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Lilly has severe substance abuse problems. She smokes and is shown badly drunk in several scenes. Multiple shots depict her with bottles of hard liquor in hand; one scene shows her surrounded by four or five bottles (which Georgia eventually throws out the window onto her driveway below). We hear Lilly vomiting from drunkenness at least twice. In a stupor, she falls face-first on the floor, splitting open her lip.

Lilly lies to her mother about smoking, but Georgia says, "Save the lies for something more important than cancer." Mention is made of several drugs Rachel has tried, including crack, Ecstasy, K and LSD. Two or three times, Simon drinks a beer with dinner.

Other Negative Elements

Always the sassy one, Rachel quips, "Try to jerk me around, Grandma." Georgia's response? "Go f--- yourself." Indeed, Rachel's life philosophy is summed up in a couple of statements: "Anyone can do anything to anyone. You can't stop it, you can only survive it," she says, an attitude influenced by her own abuse. She also brags, "I don't apologize for anything. I lie if it helps me make a point." After Rachel seduces Harlan, she tells him, "You touched me, that gives me the right to do anything."

Arnold, a wealthy defense attorney, skillfully tries to manipulate everyone into believing he didn't abuse Rachel. We learn that he tried to use a new Mustang as a bribe to get Rachel to let him continue having sex with her; she intentionally crashed the car in response, and we also discover that the abuse only stopped when one of Rachel's friends put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him.

Georgia says cynically, "Most friends in time become as useless as relatives."


Georgia Rule offers some important messages about family and forgiveness. It's a compelling tale of three wounded women struggling to accept one another, and it's not hard for me to see how it could spur some viewers to ponder their own family relationships.

That's exactly the kind of influence director Garry Marshall hopes his movie will exert. "I did a picture years ago called Nothing in Common, with Jackie Gleason and Tom Hanks," he says. "It was about a father-son relationship. And wherever I traveled, people said, 'You know, after I saw that, I called my father. I haven't talked to him in 10 years, but I called up my father.' I hope Georgia Rule will bring families a little closer together. Call the grandma. Call the mother. Call the daughter. She's not really the worst child in the history of the world."

But is it really necessary to wade through so much raw, profane and provocative content to reach that realization? Like American Beauty, Black Snake Moan and Sideways before it, Georgia Rule leaves me pondering the question: Do we have to witness people's depravity so intimately (and, in Rachel's case, so sensually) to discern how destructive it is?

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