Thursday, February 10, 2011

Admiration: Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia



Overall I felt Georgia (dir. Ulu Grosbard, 1995) was pretty bland.  It's a study of two sisters whom as children both loved to sing. Now one--Georgia (Mare Winningham)--has become a successful Country Music artist, while the other--Sadie (Jennifer Jason Leigh)--is an alcoholic burn-out who returns to her sister after a scary encounter with a famous soul singer who goes by the name of Trucker.  Why she'd trust any man with that name is beyond me, but he gives her a taste of the good life, and then attempts to shoot her.  Have I mentioned she's an alcoholic who also dabbles in the hard stuff?



The film is very much concerned with the sisters' dynamics.  They have many issues that run very deep.  Georgia's success both at home and with her career compared with Sadie's failure, Sadie's addiction and subsequent mooching of her sister, and a plethora of other things that have nearly ruined their relationship.  It's an intriguing drama, but what is more compelling is Sadie's trajectory throughout the film.  She starts off as a motel cleaner and ends up somewhere much different.  She hits every rock bottom there is, and JJL could not be better.  She's an undersung actress who rarely gets the types of roles she deserves, but she's a notorious indie darling and is always good (see: Single White Female, Margot at the Wedding).  What she creates with Sadie is marvelous, and a complete maelstrom on-screen.  Rarely do I get to witness a performance that sticks to my bones, but even though I didn't quite enjoy the film, JJL's performance will stay with me for a long time.  She's completely rounded, even the motivations between her cold hard edges.  A virtuoso performance that unfortunately continues to go overlooked.

In particular there's an infamous 8 1/2 minute rendition of Van Morrison's "Take Me Back" that Sadie performs at an AIDS benefit in which her sister is to perform.  Georgia lets Sadie perform after she's been drinking and reflecting on her life, and it adds a layer to this song that is transcendent.  Of course it's Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance which elevates this performance to epic proportions, especially since she really can't sing.  Many people have said this moment is abrasive and insufferable, and I agree, but only because I think it has to be that way in order to achieve what it is trying to.  This moment is a pouring out of emotion into music.  It's incredible.  I may have given the film a 'C+', but Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sadie is all kinds of 'A'.

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