Handing TV writer turned director Garry Marshall a story about child sexual abuse and an ugly mother-daughter rivalry is a little like asking Jessica Simpson to sing Wagner. Marshall is, after all, the man who turned a dark script about a prostitute into the hit romantic comedy PRETTY WOMAN, and his cheery, upbeat touch couldn't be less suited to the dark heart of Mark Andrus' bizarrely off-balance script.
Fed up after years of bad behavior that has included sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and a recent car crash, Chanel-clad San Francisco mom Lilly Wilcox (Felicity Huffman) throws rebellious, out-of-control 17-year-old Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) into her silver Mercedes and drives her out to the tiny Mormon town of Hull, Idaho, to spend the summer with the one woman Lilly herself could never push around: her mother, Georgia (Jane Fonda). Lilly left Hull years ago to escape Georgia and her draconian rules — dinner is promptly at 6 o'clock, taking the Lord's name in vain will get you a mouthful of soap, and the like — and hightails it back out of town as fast as she can. Rachel, meanwhile, hits the town like a bombshell. With her sassy attitude, provocative big-city wardrobe and cigarettes-and-whiskey voice, she immediately sets her sights on corrupting a naive young Mormon (Garrett Hedlund) about to embark on his two-year mission. Georgia, however, will brook no funny business, and informs Rachel that she'll be working at the office of local veterinarian Simon Ward (Dermot Mulroney), who sees human patients on the side. Simon is still smarting from the recent death of his wife and son in a car accident, and Rachel chooses the annual Fourth of July potato festival to tell him a thing or two about real suffering by revealing that from the ages of 12 to 14 she was regularly raped by her stepfather, Arnold (Cary Elwes). Horrified, Simon immediately tells Georgia, who relays the accusation to Lilly, who is soon back in Hull, drunk and demanding to hear the truth from Rachel, an inveterate liar whom Lilly has learned not to trust.
Sound like fun? Well, it's not. It's immaterial whether Marshall is incapable of modulating his irritatingly sunny tone when it comes time to deal with alcoholism, child rape and the compulsive sexual behavior of a 17-year-old girl, or whether he simply doesn't realize just how disturbing the subject matter really is: His tendency to rush to the next lame joke or simplistic, quasi-spiritual platitude is simply offensive. Making matters worse, Huffman and Lohan, who seems to know a thing or two about self-destruction, are actually quite good at conveying their characters' pain and self-hatred, while Fonda is surprisingly rusty (perhaps she, too, is trying to forget that she already made her "comeback" in the shrill MONSTER-IN-LAW). While the film is best forgotten, it will probably be remembered as the production on which a chronically delinquent Lohan was called on the carpet by the film's producers, who blamed her hard-partying ways and irresponsible behavior for spoiling the production. Spin it however they like, the troubled but talented Lohan isn't what's wrong with this misbegotten mess. leave a comment --Ken Fox