Georgia (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I think it was Oscar Wilde who declared that there are really only two tragedies in life. One is never to get what you want most. The other is to get it.

For a man who could resist everything but temptation and sympathize with everything but suffering, Wilde could have some pretty good insights. I spend so much time ranting and whining about the basic dishonesty of movies that you'd think I'd be thrilled to see an honest one. Then an uncomfortably honest one like this comes along, and I squirm in my seat and wish I was watching another simplistic fantasy.

It is an effective movie in many ways, but every minute of the sumbitch is meant to make you squirm, just like I did. Sadie and Georgia are sisters. Georgia was blessed with tremendous talent, which allowed her to become a country-folk singing legend without even making much of an effort. For her it's just about music, not a lifestyle choice, and she lives as a conservative suburban housewife in Seattle. Her life seems perfect, except that she doesn't really seem to have any passion for anything.


JJL is naked in a very dark sex scene with Max Perlich
Sadie, on the other hand, has all kinds of passion. She loves the spotlight, she performs enthusiastically, she hugs kids and dogs, and altogether too many people. Only one big problem. She doesn't have any talent. Not even a little bit. Her singing is so ugly she makes Tom Waits sound like Johnny Mathis. On the other hand, she wants the lifestyle that her sister eschews. She wants to live the life of a rock legend. She's Janis Joplin without the voice, drinking and shooting up and getting tattoos and loving uncontrollably. So she keeps performing. In bowling alleys, and weddings, and wherever she can get a gig. Of course, even the sorriest of wedding bands doesn't have much use for a drugged-out tone-deaf singer, so her life is a constant stream of rejections. Then her sister rejects her because she doesn't want her near the family. The bands fire her because she can't sing, or because she shows up wasted, or not at all. Even the airlines refuse to send her to her rehab clinic because she doesn't have shoes.

And you feel all her anguish. You feel the embarrassment when she performs in front of one drunk in a bowling alley, or when she sings hopelessly off key, or when she performs her heart out at a charity gig and gets only a smattering of perfunctory applause. And you feel your own anguish when she sings interminably. One song goes on for almost ten minutes. I have a hard time with it when they use 10% of a movie's running time for one song. I would even have a hard time if it were Marvin Gaye, but this is Jennifer Jason Leigh. I believe that including this entire song is meant to make you understand how an audience member felt. And to understand why her sister felt a need to "rescue" her on stage. I guess I wouldn't have minded if this was the only time they showed her singing at length, but she must have sung for close to 45 minutes of the film's running time. And I squirmed uncomfortably.

Oh, poor younger sister! Even when people don't tell her what they should tell her - that she can't sing, or that she's fired, or that she needs to keep her drugs and cussing away from the kids, you feel what they want to tell her, and you squirm uncomfortably. And sometimes she realizes what they want to tell her. And you squirm some more. And sometimes they do tell her, because they have no choice. And then you squirm the most of all.

She has lucid moments when she knows that she can't be a singer, but then she gets her enthusiasm back up. To paraphrase Graham Greene, you don't know which causes you more anguish, her despair, or her baseless optimism. Jennifer Jason Leigh pulled a DeNiro and starved herself down to about 80 pounds for this movie. And that wasn't done with special effects. In the final stages of the ravages of heroin, her legs are like sticks, her torso is non-existent. You look at her and again you squirm uncomfortably. Jason Leigh won the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actress that year, but was not nominated for an Oscar. The Academy did nominate the other sister, Mare Winningham, for an award as best supporting actress. (That was the year Mira Sorvino won for Mighty Aphrodite).

The movie doesn't stop with Jennifer in its efforts to make you squirm. It reinforces all those uncomfortable feelings with several other characters. Sadie marries a sweet guy several years younger. He's so naive and sincere and loving that you can't bear how Sadie's pain makes him feel. And he's too nice and too wimpy to help pull her away from her self-destruction. And then there is John C Reilly as a drummer who is incredibly nice and gentle of heart, but also so screwed-up and dumb and incompetent that he gets fired from gig after gig. (Reilly has the sincere but incompetent guy down to a science).

And when they show him being fired by his friends, who wish they didn't have to do it, you squirm uncomfortably.

DVD info from Amazon.

1.85:1 letterbox widescreen.

This DVD is not good. The print is dark, there are no extras at all, and it is priced through the roof at twenty five bucks. Possibly the worst value on the DVD market.

In fact, that's really what the whole movie is about. Squirming uncomfortably.

I didn't enjoy this film at all, but I think it's fair to say it's a strong movie. One of the things that can measure a movie is its effectiveness in producing a response. This movie produces a substantial response, and it's exactly what the filmmakers intended. Squirming. Caused by stark, undiluted, honesty. No compromises, no happy endings, no miracle cures, no artificial hopefulness.

Remember when I said I wanted that? Oscar Wilde was right. I made a mistake.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: There was no consensus. Berardinelli and Ebert liked it very much, but many critics hated it, and it got everything from one star to three and a half. I hated it, but had to concede that it manipulates the audience very effectively, and gets inside of you, like scraping on a chalkboard. Maltin 2/4, Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3.
  • With their dollars ... Three million domestic.

Return to the Movie House home page