Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head,
and pendants for your neck.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, in the Lord for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’—this is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’ And, fathers (mothers—added), do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Director Garry Marshall and writer Mark Andrus’s film deals with three generations of women in the small, Mormon-dominated, town of Hull, Idaho. To grand-daughter Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) it is no accident that the town’s name rhymes with “dull,” she being a hell-raiser preferring the excitement of her San Francisco. However, her distraught mother Lilly (Felicity Huffman) wants to dump her for a while on the mother whom she herself cannot stand, Georgia Randall (Jane Fonda). It is the latter and her penchant for coming up with a rule against anything she does not like that gives the film its name.
Rachel’s rebellious spirit has so disrupted the family that Lilly apparently thinks her own strict mother might be beneficial. Lilly herself has been struggling with her alcoholism and is fearful of destroying her marriage to Arnold (Cary Elwes), the prominent lawyer who has helped raise Rachel. Mother and daughter argue so much that just a few miles out of Hull that Rachel demands to be let out of the car. Her mother calls to her to get back in, but when Rachel refuses, mother drives off. After Rachel hitches a ride, during which she tries to flirt, she arrives finally at her grandmother’s. Georgia is hardly the warm, traditional grandmother, telling her that supper is over, so she will have to settle for an apple if she is hungry.
Mom takes off, leaving daughter to the not so tender mercies of grandmother, and grand-daughter proceeds to try to have her own way by using her sex as an inducement. It did not work on Simon (Dermot Mulroney), the local veterinarian and unofficial doctor, who had given her a ride to town, and for whom grandma forces her to go to work as receptionist. Rachel soon learns that he is still mourning the loss of his wife and son several years earlier. However, her feminine wiles are more than a match for young hunk Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), whose Morman faith means that he is about to set forth on a two-year mission for the church. Seducing him while in a row boat, she manages to break up his relationship with his pious girl friend.
The film wants to be a warm comedy drama, and there is a sequence in which we are pushed back and forth between believing and then doubting Rachel’s charge of having been sexually molested, but the script lacks the depth to make this a convincing movie, despite its excellent cast. The writer uses the usual Hollywood stereotype of wicked city versus the purity of small town virtue, and of pious Christians as being naive or intolerant. We never see Harlan or anyone at worship, so it becomes so obvious that his faith is just a plot device, rather than anything meaningful. Georgia is depicted as rule-bound one moment, even resorting to washing out with soap Rachel’s foul mouth, and then, when she grows angry, spewing forth epithets as bad as her grand-daughter’s.
Still, there are some good moments in the film as the characters learn how precious mother-daughter relationships really are, with a powerful reconciliation scene that brought a lump to my throat, despite my misgivings concerning the film as a whole. A group could do worse by watching and discussing it, especially as it might relate to the above Scripture passages.
1) How do you think that Georgia is both the source of Lilly’s problems as well as part of the solution?
2) How does each character help the other? What do you think that each mother/daughter learns?
3) In the case of Rachel’s sensational claim about sexual molestation, how does it finally come down to a matter of whom you trust? How is trust as important in family relationships as love?
4) Although some of the characters are depicted as Mormans, how is it a very secular film? Do any of the principal characters, including Simon, ever pray or make a decision that seems to be influenced by their religion? Ever see the church or church leaders or a worship service?
5) Do you think it is law or faith that forms the basis of Georgia’s approach to life and its relationships?
6) How are Harlan’s girlfriend and her spying friends depicted? Typical Hollywood view of church folk? What are some other films that show the stereotypical view of the city as being bad and the small town as the abode of all that is good? Has that been your experience?