Jennifer Jason Leigh is high point of Ulu Grosbard's Georgia

by Dave Sarles

Daily Cougar Staff

Performance. It can make or break a movie. Sometimes, it can take the ordinary screenplay and push it into the realm of greatness. This is what happens when Jennifer Jason Leigh steps onto the screen in her new film, Georgia. She is outstanding as Sadie Flood, a wannabe rock star who is perpetually dwarfed by her famous folk singer sister, Georgia (Mare Winningham).

Leigh has made a reputation in Hollywood as the premier actress who gives each of her characters all she's got. She was memorable as the cop-turned-junkie in Rush and as the roommate from hell in search of an identity in Single White Female. The list goes on. She takes roles many actresses today are afraid to take. Not only that, she really pours her soul into each one.

It is no different in Georgia. Let's examine the character of Sadie: She is a sycophantic, substance-abusing, lost soul who has lived pathetically in the shadow of her ultra-successful and almost too prissy sister. This doesn't sound like a role that every little perfect Ms. Hollywood would even remotely think about portraying. But for Leigh, Sadie is just another notch on her already well-respected belt.

The film focuses on the relationship between Sadie and Georgia. Sadie is aware and extremely self-conscious of her sister's gift. Sadie is a user, plain and simple. She sucks the life out of people. Her stage performance and vocal style are all just bits and pieces she has taken from other famous singers. Along with this, Sadie is also a full-blown alcoholic and heroin addict.

Georgia is the opposite of Sadie. She is blessed with a voice that fills the seats at large arenas. But at the same time, she couldn't care less about the fame, the money and her life in the spotlight. The one thing Georgia has is the thing Sadie most desires: talent. But what Sadie lacks in talent, she attempts to make up for in her performance.

Although Sadie is extremely envious of Georgia, she also seems to take pride in her sister's success. She also attempts to assert herself as a rock singer, with or without the talent. Sadie is independent of Georgia, but also realizes that the wealth Georgia has accumulated is easy money, and she can get it whenever she wants.

Georgia seems like she is constantly trying to protect Sadie. Whether she gives her money or lets Sadie stay at her house, she is always attempting to mother her.

The relationship between the sisters seems to be one of mutual envy. Georgia envies Sadie for her free spirit. She comes and goes as she pleases and answers to no one. Georgia, on the other hand, leads a structured and ordered life that she appears to show little interest in. Her one true joy is her daughter, Mish (Rachel Rasco).

There is one other stand-out performance in Georgia: Max Perlich, who plays Axel, Sadie's grocery-delivery boy-turned husband. His character is a naive, love-starved kid who becomes instantly infatuated with Sadie. Perlich is a standout actor who breathes life into even the weakest roles. He is comic and tragic as Axel. He finds that Sadie even uses him to the point that he must leave her.

The most intense scene in the film comes when Sadie is given a chance to be the opening act for Georgia. Sadie ends up singing her own version of the Van Morrison song, "Take Me Back." The director, Ulu Grosbard, lets the audience cringe through the entire eight-and-a-half-minute rendition. It is probably the most grueling and unforgettable part of the entire film.

The film is well-directed, and the screenplay, written by Leigh's mother, Barbara Turner, is an interesting twist to the tired rehab story. It is shot mostly in the countryside and club scene of rainy Seattle. It gives the movie a dark and gloomy feel.

There are no voice-overs here. Leigh and Winningham use their actual voices when singing in the film. This creates a more realistic feel for the entire movie. Also, we learn that Winningham is a tremendous vocal talent.

Leigh, once again, shows us why she is one of the most intriguing actresses working today. She will definitely be able to add an Oscar nomination to her rsum. What would have been an ordinary story about two sisters becomes something different and worth watching. Leigh makes us care about a severely screwed-up character who wears too much mascara. Her outstanding performance is the reason to see this otherwise average film.

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