gia

1998

Directed by: Michael Cristofer
Written by: Jay McInerney and Michael Cristofer

When given the right material, the right director and the right co-stars Angelina Jolie is one of the most talented young actresses in Hollywood today. She's made some absolutely horrible films, including Beyond Borders and her two sub-standard Tomb Raider outings (sorry girls, but as much as she was a perfect physical fit for the role, the scripts were just awful).

She is however one of the few actresses around at the moment who consistently performs well: as in, even when a film is bad, she's generally the best thing in it.

Jolie's better and most courageous performances lie at the beginning of her career, with Gia acknowledged as one of her two best roles so far, along with her Academy Award-winning turn in Girl Interrupted. For this made for TV movie she won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor's Guild award and earned an Emmy nomination. In both cases she had amazing scripts and a talented supporting cast. In Gia she's backed by the superb and underrated Elizabeth Mitchell and the always great Mercedes Ruehl.

Gia Carangi's story is a well-known and sad one. Flying too high, too fast into the world of international modelling, Carangi took a nose-dive into drugs, became an intravenous drug user, failed many times in rehab and eventually fell victim to AIDS in the early years of the epidemic. No one really knew how the disease was transferred back then, and no one knew what a social predator it would become.

Carangi was also quite famously a lesbian, an oddity in the world of high fashion. She had several important and well-documented relationships with women, both during her glory years and the years of her decline, all of which have been combined in the film into one character, Linda, a make-up artist played by Elizabeth Mitchell. Linda becomes the focus of Gia's love and obsession but ultimately is powerless to save Gia as she hurtles towards her own destruction. During their good times however the couple are infectiously happy and we can't help cheering for them, hoping beyond hope that somehow Linda will get through to Gia and the story can end differently with them living together happily ever after. Of course, if that happened there would be no reason to make a film.

Angelina Jolie is riveting. From street urchin to high fashion model the transformation is amazing. She plays both with equal passion. That Jolie actually bears some kind of physical resemblance to Carangi matters not at all. Even if she looked completely different I feel like I still would have believed her performance. Gia sucked the life out of everything around her to fuel her own personality. She sucked the lifeblood from the people who loved her. As Jolie chews the scenery we notice that when she's on-screen everyone else seems that little more dull. She's the bright light - the star - the centre of her own and everyone else's universe. It must have been immensely tiring loving the real Gia Carangi and the supporting cast play this to perfection.

I can't say enough about Elizabeth Mitchell. No stranger to playing a lesbian (she brought the wonderful Kim Legaspi to life on ER) she has this shyness within her that never goes away, even when making love or dealing with the worst of Gia's drug addictions and their lovers squabbles. In one of the semi-interview segments of the film she describes (as Linda) Gia's love as being like a puppy. Love me love me love me, all the time. The look in her eyes as she says she did love her, right away, just leaves you aching.

We ache for the life this beautiful woman could have had if her life hadn't intersected so painfully with Gia's, but we know she wouldn't trade those times for anything. We laugh at their first meeting where she's convinced to hesitantly discard her clothes and do a nude shoot with Gia and ends up tumbled into Gia's bed. She's really a nerdy straight girl underneath. Gia was just irresistible. We cry for the terrible way in which she is eventually cut out of Gia's life after giving so much.

Ultimately the story disintegrates into a procession of drug-fuelled days, rehab attempts and failures as Gia loses control of her life. When she's hospitalised with AIDS our attention is finally drawn away from Gia herself to the people she is leaving behind. We see how devastated they were, but how her death brought both Gia and her loved ones a measure of peace. It's a horrifying and terrible conclusion to come to but one which Gia herself arrives at before the end, as read from the real Gia's own personal diaries. She used up every bit of her body and soul living a life that couldn't be sustained. It was time for her to let go, so that the people she took along with her could live their own lives again.

If sad films are not your thing you might want to steer clear, this is about as depressing as it gets. If you do miss this film though you're missing some of the hottest lesbian love scenes and some of the most magnificent acting you're likely to ever see. It's a doomed life, but a powerful and essential piece of storytelling.

Note: There are two different versions of Gia in existence. Get the unrated one if you can. The rated version chops freely away at Jolie's nude scenes, which besides depriving us of eye candy, detracts from the film as a whole. I always believe in watching the film that the filmmaker intended to make, not what the classification board believes is fit for me to watch.

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