Why Haven’t You Seen…? Georgia

Apologies, this week I really did mean to have WHYS…? up on Sunday, but I was ill. Back on schedule next week.

If you’ve seen, or subsequently see, any of the movies I’ve featured on WHYS, or if you’ve got a suggestion for a title I should review here in future then please use the comments or drop me an email at sam@multimediamouth.com

GEORGIA
DIR: Ulu Grosbard

What’s It All About?
Georgia is about two sisters, both singers. Georgia (Mare Winningham) is a successful country musician with a large fanbase and a stable home life. Her sister Sadie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sings in dives, usually to hostile audiences, and has recurring problems with drugs. The film covers some of Georgia’s attempts to help Sadie with both career and drug issues, and Sadie’s consistent self destructive ways.

Why Haven’t You Seen It?
I know it came out at the cinema in the UK, but as far as I know it has never been released on any home video format (certainly if it came out on tape I have never seen a copy, despite spending the better part of 15 years looking). Despite an Oscar nominated performance by Mare Winningham (she lost Supporting Actress to Mira Sorvino) and a solid critical reception the film made little money and now has almost no profile beyond big fans of its cast.

Why Should You See It?
In three words: Jennifer. Jason. Leigh. I’m on record as one of the biggest Jennifer Jason Leigh fans around, I think she’s less an actor than a changeling, and yet still I was unprepared for how good she is in this film. I’d put it up there with the greatest female performances I’ve seen. As Sadie, Leigh does a vanishing act; the actress becomes completely invisible. That’s not to say there isn’t a sense of performance, there is, but that performance is inherent to Sadie; a character who creates drama, melodrama even, on purpose wherever she goes. Leigh dieted down to 89 pounds, and this both sells the idea of Sadie as a drug addict and gives her a sometimes frightening fragility, despite the outward toughness of the character. Leigh seems almost breakable in the role, physically and emotionally, and at times it’s so raw that it’s actually tough to watch. Her emotions are so naked, like an exposed nerve, but Leigh puts it all across with total reality, never hitting a false beat.

In one moment, which is both tough to watch and impossible to look away from, Sadie, given a break by her sister in the form of a chance to sing at a huge charity gig, proceeds to spend nine minutes butchering Van Morrison’s Take Me Back. It feels like a violent sequence, like Sadie is attacking both song and audience, and also like you are watching a nervous breakdown unfold over the course of a single song. That said, all the sequences in which Sadie sings have to some degree this almost awkward emotional nakedness, thanks to the total gusto with which Leigh (performing all her own vocals, all live) throws herself at the songs.

This isn’t however, to say that Leigh is the only thing worth watching. Oscar nominated Mare Winningham (how Leigh didn’t score a nod from AMPAS when Winningham did is one of the great mysteries of eternity, by the way) is excellent as Georgia, giving a solid performance as a woman struggling to love a troubled sister and balance that with work and family. She also did her own vocals live, and reveals a decent and appropriately MOR country voice. There’s strong work from a supporting cast full of recognisable faces too; there are early roles for John C. Reilly and John Doe (cast because Leigh was a fan of his band, X), Ted Levine and his unmistakable drawl bring character to Georgia’s husband, and Max Perlich is perfectly cast as Sadie’s naive and doting young husband.

Georgia resists the urge to tie things up with a neat bow. Sadie isn’t fixed by the time the end credits roll, and nothing seems certain in these characters futures, and that just adds to the film’s sense of honesty; something that powers both performances and script. If you’re already a Jennifer Jason Leigh fan then you need to see this as a matter of urgency, if you aren’t, see this and be converted.

Standout Moment

How Can You See It?
The only DVD release I’m aware of is the Region 1 Miramax Classics edition. It’s a vanilla release, obviously, but the picture is fine and the film is in widescreen.

Next Week
Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Reynolds star in THE NINES