So I can't imagine what would have become of our bond if we both equally adored the piano or if we both equally adored soccer, but one was so severely better than the other and everyone, everyone, let it be known, the compliment increasingly eating the other with the passing of time. Such a conflict is the epicenter of 1995's "Georgia," wherein the portrayed dysfunctional relationship between two sisters is the result of one being a massively successful, Bonnie Raitt type, the other a struggling, Stevie Nicks wannabe who possesses none of the talent of her sister. Of course, the more celebrated sibling is the one who gives the film its name, and, of course, the actress playing the more celebrated sibling is the one who got the Oscar nomination.
The film, regardless of fairness, features an unbelievably brave performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays the younger, lesser sister, Sadie. Drug addicted, aimless, and driven by melancholy, she is a flailing singer wanting to be Janis Joplin, but is lacking in both ambition and genuine talent. The first time we meet her, we briefly witness her drifting lifestyle only to jump to her attendance of one her sister, Georgia's (Mare Winningham), rock concerts. Only a few seconds into listening to Georgia's voice do we crave for more - like a Joni Mitchell or Linda Rondstadt, she commands the stage and is capable of touching our souls. The camera intermittently turns to gaze upon Sadie's reaction, which, despite gorgeous singing from Winnigham's Georgia, is arguably the most memorable thing about the scene. Wet from her happy tears, we can deftly feel everything Sadie herself is feeling: pride, delirious joy, but also drowning envy.
Backstage, their relationship is revealed to be exactly what we'd expect. Georgia cares about Sadie but is clearly stressed out by her sudden appearance, knowing that she can never go anywhere without causing bothersome drama; Sadie defines so much of her existence based on her sister's brilliance that she acts like an irritating groupie. Uncomfortable as it is, Georgia invites Sadie to stay over at her house for a couple of nights with her husband (Ted Levine) and kids, old wounds, expectedly, opening as an aftereffect of the invitation.
More happens in "Georgia," including Sadie joining a bar band (who often plays to crowds of one), getting hastily hitched to a guy she barely knows (Max Perlich), and recovering from the inescapable drug collapse; we are also witness to Georgia's family life, which features a complicated marriage and kids who aren't much affected by regular warmth. But "Georgia" is mostly a plotless movie, its interest always stemming from its central sibling rivalry and the way addiction is realistically portrayed as a family affair, not just lonely self-indulgence. It is a thoughtful, often excruciatingly painful movie, but our awe for Leigh, along with co-star Winningham, is enough to keep us treading down its dark paths.
Also hypnotizing is the way it uses music as a way to heighten its drama. Where most films use such sequences as an excuse to catch a breath and forget about the stakes of the plot for a few minutes, "Georgia" sees them as opportunity to deepen the crevasse that stands between a healthy relationship between its titular figure and the messed up Sadie. Two great scenes are perhaps what we will take away most from the film, one being Leigh and Winningham's afflicting duet, which stands as the best example of how different these women are, the other Leigh's drunken, nine minute rendition of Van Morrison's "Take Me Back," which must have been quite the ordeal for the actress, considering how hard it is to consciously pretend to be someone distinctly untalented but still taken be in by their own self-regard.
Brutal but fascinating, "Georgia" is a character study of bruising realism, an analytical eye being the key to its emotional success. Leigh, maddeningly ignored by the Academy for her performance, is a tour-de-force of acting strength, and Winningham is a forgotten revelation with a voice of honey but a soul of sympathetic torment. It's all hard to watch, but don't be surprised by the way it overtakes your being.
As an independent film, Georgia has a limited scope. The film is mostly a slow-burning character study of protagonist Sadie Flood, a self-destructive sister of the titular successful musician. This means that the film is simple in its own ways and complicated in others. But the way I see it, much of the complicated aspects of the narrative prove to be left to the implications. The themes such as sibling rivalry and drug addiction are not given any specific narrative but rather are left to occur naturally on their own, and this works for better and for worse. For better in the sense that the natural development of the plot dynamics allows the experience to feel more realistic yet worse in the sense that there is really not much done with them that cannot be attributed simply to the cast. The film relies on the simplistic concept of Sadie Flood's own self-destructive lifestyle, and it isn't exactly predictable because her path is one that has not been explored in the same manner many times before which certainly pays credit to the originality of the film, but from a practical perspective the film is very much just a series of long conversations and music sequences which boast dramatic flair but have a slight tendency to drag on for a while. I'm not saying that Georgia is a bad film, it's just that the lack of dramatization in it is both a strength to the film's originality and a weakness to how much it genuinely affects the viewer, even though it does have some sequences which are really rich in dramatic atmosphere.
By today's standards, Georgia is very much a slow film. It clearly would have been more relevant during its original release at the time of the endeavour of Jennifer Jason Leigh's career and when the music depicted in the film was more culturally relevant, but now the material seems heavily dependent on its nostalgic value more than anything. I'll admit that the feature certainly had its quirks, but it is not precisely the most amusing film. There is constantly a nihilistic tone to the film which gradually intensifies more and more which shows that there is some kind of development going on, and the lack of conventional twists that commonly uplift a more familiar narrative certainly makes the experimental nature of the film more innovative. Unfortunately, it's just not as entertaining to look at in this day and age.
The lack of Hollywood conventions in the film also means that the simplistic film style does not work to dramatize things. Everything is shot mainly with still, prolonged footage which lacks dramatized editing or the ability to emphasize any real imagery. I value this in the sense that it makes the experience more realistic, but it also fails to support the brilliant performances of the cast by capturing the best assets of their efforts with close detail. It leaves them to fend for themselves in a film where the importance rests heavily on what the actors do with the characters. But with such a remarkable cast working the material the result is truly a powerful spectacle of acting.
To say that Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance in Georgia is her finest is truly a valid critical evaluation. Sadie Flood is a very complex character, and while the narrative may not always emphasize the extent of her complex mental depth, Jennifer Jason Leigh conveys unexpected extents of grunge spirit in the character. There is a juvenile nature about Sadie which really depicts her inability to grow up and out of the shadow of her older sister, consistently reminding us of her inferiority complex. This is depicted at the start of the film, but it progressively becomes more damaging as she is broken down over the course of the story. Sadie goes through many different physical changes in the film, wearing various facades, costumes and haircuts to project development in the role. Sometimes she appears to have passionate control over her angry spirit yet at other times she is so lost in it that it can be rather scary. Either way, she captures the part brilliantly with passion for the music which is most notable during the scene where the sings "Take Me Back" where all the finest aspects of her performance converge into a single moment of tenacious dramatic strength. Jennifer Jason Leigh is truly a remarkable foil in Georgia, and she succeeds in doing what the character wants in making the story all about her.
Mare Winningham is also wonderful. Adding to the complex characterization of Sadie Flood, Mare Winningham deservedly fits the titular role by sharing a thoroughly intelligent chemistry with Jennifer Jason Leigh. There is a real sense of complex sisterhood shared between them, a challenging sibling rivalry in which Mare Winningham stands up as the more sophisticated and adult of the two without deviating from her instinctively challenging nature as a sister. Mare Winningham takes a strong stance in the story and delivers remarkable spirit during the musical sequences of the film as her voice is so gentle that it is borderline angelic.
The presence of a young John C. Reilly is also great because his restrained spirit depicts him very much lost in himself well. Ted Levine is also good to see in a simpler dramatic role in contrast to his more notorious character-driven efforts, and he blends in with everyone easily.
So Georgia has a remarkable cast to boot led by Jennifer Jason Leigh in her most brutally confronting effort to date, but the reliance on characters makes the limited scope of the film more apparent to have not won the battle of age, leaving a stirring but slow and limited experience as a final product.
Please get Georgia off my mind. In this plotless waste of film, Leigh is an unsuccessful alcoholic rock singer, living in the shadow of her famous and ultra-proper sister (Winningham). Leigh is good, but not great, mostly because her character is tailor-written to accommodate her limited acting abilities. (She and the screenwriter co-produced the project.) Oscar-nominated Winningham is believable both as Leigh's sister and as a successful recording star; her singing is great. But the bottom line is that a character study needs some sort of plot in which to study the characters. After two hours, you're exactly where you've started and you wonder why. Queer Quotient: Leigh is awfully friendly with a lesbian band at one point in the film. By the finale, I wondered if she was going to join them. Her hair is all buzzed off, and she looks more androgynous than Michael Jackson.
"Everything's 'jake', Jake!" "No one sings that song better than my sister... Who? Thank you, Comrade."