THE NOMINATION OF Mare Winningham for an Academy Award
this year was dismaying for many Tucsonans, since Georgia,
the film she was nominated for, never even opened here. Now,
finally, Georgia--a difficult, uneven and ultimately rewarding
movie--is coming to town for the final days of the Arizona Film
Most movies, including independent films, tend to conform to
the unspoken rules of structure and content. Georgia is
one of the few commercial films I've seen recently that manages
to do away with many of these conventions at once. The results
are exhilarating, but a little disorienting, too. For example,
time jerks and flows through this movie in unprecedented fits
and starts. Before the opening credits have even finished running,
an entire little subplot has been tossed off in the background,
practically in fast-motion, concerning Sadie (poor little Jennifer
Jason Leigh), a hotel maid who goes on a bender and hits the road
with a blues man. By the very next scene she's left him (forever)
and is watching a concert in slow, real time.
These shifts work the same way parts of Leaving Las Vegas
worked--by mirroring Sadie's confused, drunken consciousness.
Sadie happens to be the unstable, eye-liner lovin' younger sister
of the eponymous Georgia (Mare Winningham), a successful country-folk
singer. The two have a difficult relationship, to say the least.
Sadie wants what Georgia has--fame, talent, stability; Georgia,
in turn, seems to derive at least some of her famous "centerness"
from Sadie's volatility. This movie doesn't spin out a conventional
plot so much as trace the emergence of a pattern--Sadie fucks
up and Georgia saves her; Sadie fucks up in order that Georgia
will save her, etc.
Georgia manages to get away with this plotlessness because
the interactions between the characters are so unexpected and
complex. Especially captivating is the relationship between Sadie
and Axel (played with offbeat humor by Max Perlich), the liquor-delivery
boy who falls for Sadie even though she's all drunk, desperate
and surrounded by empties. And, though nothing decisive happens,
the bond between the two sisters is continually explored throughout.
In the end, the lack of plot is justified by the inevitable lack
of sense or progress in Sadie's boozy, mainlining ethos. Despite
the title, Georgia is really Sadie's story. Her sister
embodies an ideal, a safe haven, but like the Brazil of Brazil,
she's forever a representation.
What intrigued me most about this film, though, was the singing.
Both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham have extremely long
numbers and, in my opinion, neither of them is any good. Leigh,
in particular, couldn't sing her way out of a box. This at least
is in keeping with her character, Sadie, who is meant to have
passion and drive but lacks talent. What's so interesting about
the numbers is that they call the intentions of the filmmaker
into question. Clearly, Sadie is not meant to be as talented as
Georgia, but in letting Leigh perform repeatedly, for excruciating
lengths of time, director Ulu Grosbard seems to be conveying the
idea that Sadie really does have some spark of talent.
Otherwise, wouldn't he be deliberately tormenting us?
Or is he deliberately tormenting us? Sadie's performances are
painful and embarrassing for her friends and family--why not for
us too? For me, it was impossible to tell if the director was
intentionally creating an uncomfortable situation for the audience,
or if he had merely misjudged, particularly since the same experience
is repeated with Mare Winningham. She's meant to be the
talented and successful one, but her singing struck me as corny
and annoying. Her performances, too, are endless. I was reminded
of Robert Altman's Nashville, where the musical numbers
are intentionally insipid (he had his actors, rather than real
musicians, write them). Altman's intentions were clearly satirical
(at least most of the time), but Grosbard's intentions are far
I think some viewers may be justifiably annoyed by this muddiness,
especially since the musical parts of this film practically qualify
as torture. I'm fascinated, though, by the openness they leave
for interpretation. I recently saw a woman dressed in perfect,
mid-seventies style--feathered hair, halter top, faded jeans--but
without the self-conscious irony that usually accompanies retro
style. And she was far too young to be one of those people who
found a look she liked and just hung on. Like Georgia,
it was impossible to interpret if she was conscious of her idiosyncratic
choices, or just out-of-it. How often do we encounter such mysteries?