Rachel Wilcox (Lindsay Lohan) is sent to spend the summer with her pious grandmother Georgia (Jane Fonda) in Idaho. Her mother Lilly (Felicity Huffman) simply can't cope with her any longer and hopes that her grandmother might knock some sense into her before she starts college in the fall.
To begin with, Rachel mostly mopes around feeling sorry for herself. She seduces a local Mormon boy out of sheer boredom and persistently tries it on with the local vet. Georgia tries to force Rachel into living by her pathologically rigid rules, while Lilly gets drunk and endlessly agonizes over why her mother was so unloving to her. So far, so schmaltzy.
But when it emerges that Rachel was sexually abused as a teenager by her step-father Arnold (Cary Elwes), the movie becomes strangely confused. It veers so uneasily between comedy and melodrama that it ends up ruining what might have been a solid movie. Lindsay Lohan is actually surprisingly good as the deeply disturbed Rachel. She's a sort of Lolita-like figure whose experience of sexual abuse has desensitized her to the world and turned sex into a loveless act of reciprocal exchange.
The humor is surprisingly black when it focuses on Rachel and in particular her strange friendship with the naive and idealistic young Mormon boy. But the comedic way the movie deals with the sexual abuse is genuinely disconcerting, and the way in which the three female leads overcome their differences in response to it feels horribly contrived. But "Georgia Rule" is by no means as bad as many critics have suggested. There is a solid story in there, somewhere, of how dysfunctional families beget more dysfunctional families. It's just a shame that director Garry Marshall felt obliged to make the subject matter conform to the all-too-formulaic outcome of this sort of inter-generational tale in which antagonistic family members all find redemption and love in the end.
There are some genuinely good scenes along the way though and there is plenty to admire in Lindsay Lohan's troubled character, not least the way in which she tears into the local Mormons.