The toughest act to follow was their dreams.
Don’t ask me what that tagline means, because I am in pain. Movies can be a painful experience, as Georgia aptly proves. Just imagine 118 minutes of your nails scraping against a chalkboard, thinly disguised as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s singing voice, and that will pretty much sum up this movie.
My advance knowledge of Georgia was gleaned from reading Roger Ebert’s review (very favorable, I might add) and the blurbs on the back of the DVD case. Both sources made it sound like a pretty good movie. After watching it, I perused several online reviews, looking in vain for a mainstream critic who was willing to say it wasn’t a good movie. Only a reviewer for Time Magazine was willing to tell the truth. I think this further proves my assertions, first stated in my review of The Loss Of Sexual Innocence, that critics sometimes give good reviews just so other critics won’t laugh them at them. My self-esteem is high enough that I don’t need to curry favor with the establishment. Let the thrashing begin.
First off, I want to blame the responsible parties. Georgia was directed by Ulu Grosbard, who was 66 at the time of the movie’s release. Grosbard has directed seven movies, the first of which was made in 1968. Most of his career has been spent directing Broadway plays. It was written by Barbara Turner, scribe of several made-for-TV movies, none of which starred Tori Spelling or Valerie Bertinelli (but, I guess she can keep reaching for the gold). Oh, and she also happens to be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s mother. Georgia stars the aforementioned Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham. Leigh’s talent is belied by this movie. She’s been very good in other roles, such as Backdraft, Single White Female, and Dolores Claiborne. Winningham is better known for her television work, but she did manage to garner an Academy Award nomination for her role as the titular Georgia (fortunately, she lost to Mira Sorvino for her amazing work in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Mighty Aphrodite).
Georgia manages to make several things very clear in the first five minutes: One, the movie is about Sadie (Leigh), but they called it Georgia to fool good ole boys into thinking it’s a movie about the South, even though it hops all around the Pacific Coast. Two, Sadie’s a drunk and not a very good singer, sober or otherwise. Three, Barbara Turner isn’t a very good writer. I’ve read enough about screenwriting to know that, if you’re going to use flashbacks, at least make them work in context. In the first five minutes alone, we see Sadie and Georgia as kids, Sadie working at a hotel, Sadie singing with some guy she met at the hotel, and Sadie on a road trip with some guy in a convertible through what must be either Oregon or Washington (though I’ve lived in Oregon my entire life and it doesn’t look familiar at all…that must be the scene filmed in Texas).
At the end of the road trip and the confusing flashbacks, we find Sadie and her traveling companion at a concert in Seattle (though no discernable Seattle landmark is ever shown). Singing at the concert is a very popular woman who sounds like Joan Baez or Linda Ronstadt or Patsy Cline (take your pick). The crowd loves her, even the young people, who if they were in their right mind, in Seattle, in 1995, would have been at a Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains show instead. After listening to an eternally long country-folk ditty, we learn that the singer is the titular Georgia (Winningham). She’s none too happy that her sister Sadie has returned to town, but she welcomes her home nonetheless.
Without warning, Georgia’s out of the picture, and Sadie is singing. She sounds like Courtney Love on a bad day, but somehow she manages to get singing gigs and admiring groupies. One of the groupies (Max Perlich — Ugly Naked People, House On Haunted Hill) falls in love with her and even marries her, even though he only knew her from delivering booze to her rat-trap of an apartment.
Anyway, the movie goes on like this for what seems like forever with barely a glimmer of a plot moving it along. Georgia pops in every so often to look disapproving of her sister’s lifestyle. At one point, the movie stops dead in its tracks (as if it wasn’t already mostly dead) so Sadie can sing for eight minutes. Eight minutes of off-key, alcoholic sonic mumbling. I was ready to either dig my eardrums out with a spork or fast-forward past the song, but I gritted my teeth in the pursuit of cinematic justice. At one point Sadie leaves Seattle, but it’s not clear just where she went, or how she shacked up with the guy from the road trip, or how she suddenly had a heroin addiction. I think it was meant to give her a reason to enter rehab so the movie could have a semblance of a happy ending…even though it ends with Sadie back onstage cackling out “tunes” with a drink in her hand. I think the only thing that was different was she had a shorter haircut.
Enough of me complaining about the movie; how was the DVD?
Disney (the corporate conglomerate overlord who owns Miramax) once again confuses DIVX with DVD, and releases a disc suitable for viewing for a two-day period then discarding. The non-anamorphic picture quality is inconsistent. Most of the movie takes place in dark, seedy bars, and for the most part the black level is dark and shadows are well defined, while in other scenes the darker areas appear reddish and indistinct. In lighter scenes, the picture can become grainy. Edge enhancement is visible quite often, and there is some shimmering (a glaring example can be seen right at the beginning). Audio is presented in Dolby Surround. Georgia is mostly a dialogue picture, but you’d think that the musical sequences would have been mixed a little more appropriately. Vocals and instruments appear to have been randomly placed across the front of the soundstage, with little or no attention paid to the rear channel. The disc contains no extras, unless you count the menu selection that shows poster art for other “recommended” pictures. All of this for a list price of $29.99US. What a rip-off.
If you’re a masochist, or like melodramatic cheese not fit for a made-for-TV flick, by all means pick up this disc. Otherwise, show yourself some respect and pass. If you want to see a movie about a struggling singer with personal problems, I’d recommend John Sayles’ excellent Limbo.