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Some movies are what is called story driven. A normal life is suddenly thrown off-kilter by an extraordinary event, and how the characters deal with that event makes the movie. Some are character driven. Not much appears to happen, and what does h appen plays out slowly and deliberately. Characters grow, interact, and slowly but surely you get a strong feeling for them. Movies such as this are difficult to watch. They take a lot of concentration to work through. For the actors, character driven scripts give them a tremendous chance to strut their stuff. For the writer, it is a chance to abandon the Syd Field by-the-book storyline, and attempt to craft something special.
Georgia, is an exquisitely constructed piece of work.
It is the story of two sisters. One a successful and talented country songwriter/performer. The other, a wannabe singer who hits every note just a little bit sharp.
Mare Winningham plays the successful singer, Georgia. She's famous, has a husband and two (later three) kids--does what she can to love and support her sister.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is Sadie. If Georgia is a little bit country, Sadie is quite a bit more rock 'n roll. She's got the punk look down. The black makeup. The tattoos, whether real or imaginary. She drinks most of the time, and although professing an aversion to drug use, if it comes around, well, you know. She will vanish for months at a time. Lives on the edge. Scrapes by. Sadie loves her sister, too. But buried way below the surface is an unexpressed envy.
Her pain is expressed not only in the self-destruction that we see on screen, but also in the carefully chosen songs which embellish the characterizations.
Barbara Turner's script is a masterfully subtle piece of work. Sadie's self-destructive downward spiral is plain to everyone except Sadie and her starstruck fan-come-husband Axel. It has damaged her relationship with her father. It puts strains on her sister's marriage. And there is nothing anyone can do for her because she is an adult, and is treated as such.
Those of us who are particularly stubborn and strong-headed can identify with Sadie. We can take support, but we can't take advice or criticism. Nothing can be done for Sadie until she hits bottom. Once Axel bails, she does.
The film is bookended by the performance of a song whose chorus goes "No More Hard Times." From Georgia, the performance doesn't suggest that she has truly seen hard times. From Sadie, there is no question.
Jennifer Jason Leigh has the "flashier" role (if that sounds derogatory, it is NOT meant to be so). Mare Winningham is tremendous as the sister who can only do so much. And then she does some more.
And as much as I use the "babble" of film students as a slam, Georgia had me babbling right along. I like a script which builds the characters bit by bit. I like watching fine actors strut their stuff.
But I freely admit that I don't necessarily like working this hard to go so deep into a film. It takes a while until you understand where the film is leading. There are song performances -- some actually recorded live -- which compare and contrast the two sisters. You may actually wonder if you're watching music video until you understand what director Ulu Grosbard is doing. By the ending, it all makes sense.
I'll write it again. Georgia is not an easy movie to sit through. It makes you work hard. You have to concentrate on everything that happens on screen. You have to listen to the lyrics of each song.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Georgia, he would have paid . . .
At minimum, see it for Winningham's performance.
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