Two summers ago, when Robert Altman was shooting the Prairie Home Companion film adaptation at the Fitzgerald Theater, I planted myself outside the theater one afternoon for some unapologetic stargazing. I expected scores of paparazzi, weeping Lindsay Lohan fans, and a few Garrison Keillor junkies. The crowd, if you could even call it that, was considerably less impressive—just a handful of professional autograph collectors and occasional traffic from the neighboring apartments.
The sleepy scene perked up, though, when Lohan appeared, shielded by oversized sunglasses, a meaty bodyguard, and a small girl posse. She was quickly whisked inside the hair and makeup RV, but not before we were warned that there would be absolutely no photographs or interaction with the star during the five seconds she materialized in front of us. No matter that there was really no crowd to contend with, or that Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen arrived via minivan shortly thereafter and worked us loiterers like it was the Iowa caucus. I suppose you reach a certain level of celebrity where it no longer matters whether the crowds appear—the SWAT-like tactical efficiency by which your entrances and exits are orchestrated have taken on a life of their own. Clearly, Lohan has become a cog in that sad machine.
Speaking of sad . . . this week I previewed Lohan’s latest film, Georgia Rule, a dreadful multigenerational comedic weeper that opens today in theaters. The film made headlines last year when a movie exec publicly scolded Lohan for logging more hours on the party circuit than on his set. There are enough uneasy parallels between the out-of-control girl Lohan plays in Georgia Rule and the actress’s own real life role as Hollywood’s enfant terrible to make an optimist wonder if she wasn’t just working on her character when she missed her call times.
Mark Andrus’s tin-eared script casts Lohan as Rachel, a foul-mouthed Vassar-bound brat sent to Idaho for the summer to live with her grandmother (Jane Fonda) whose so-called Georgia Rules are supposed to transform this insouciant sexpot into a well-mannered member of the family. Literally dumped on the side of the road by her alcoholic mother (Felicity Huffman), Rachel immediately meets and tries to seduce a shaggy-haired young local played by Garrett Hedlund, one of the few actors in the film who doesn’t embarrass himself (which reflects well on us, since Hedlund is from Roseau, Minnesota). Rachel also throws herself at a depressed widower (Dermot Mulroney) to whom she confides a family secret that becomes the impetus for the histrionics that follow.
I imagine director Garry Marshall bears much of the responsibility for this mess of a movie (let’s face it, Pretty Woman was a fluke), but it’s also one of those films where you sense that everyone, no matter where their names fall in the end credits, happily cashed their paychecks knowing full well the train wreck they signed up for. Each character is given a one-note malady and not much room to become anything more than that. In fact, Fonda hardly has a character at all, which is a problem since her matriarch is supposed to hold this dysfunctional family together. Her scenes with Huffman mine familiar mother-daughter terrain that might resonate with easy-to-please chick flick audiences, but often it’s as if the two were acting in separate movies—Fonda wisely underplays the fiery moments, while Huffman’s screechy, offbeat line readings try too hard to make Andrus’s lame dialogue sing. Lohan, I suppose, fares the best. But at what price? My guess is most people will assume she’s not acting.