14 August 2005 | paul2001sw-1
Georgia on my mind
'Georgia' is a strong, sometimes harrowing drama about the relationship between two singing siblings: the eponymous elder sister, an established country-folk star, and the less talented Sadie, who is actually the central character of this film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is in her element as the self-destructive, self-loathing Sadie, and delivers perhaps her finest performance; but Mare Willingham is also good in the subtler role of Georgia, a woman whose capacity to feel compassion has been tested to the limit, and which only survives when focused through a prism of superiority. Georgia is instinctively careful with words but Sadie compulsively goads her into betraying these instincts; the telling dialogues between them are constructed with a deadly precision, the high points of a generally excellent screenplay. What's also surprising is that the music is also good. In any film about art, a central problem for the director is creating a belief in the merits of the fictional work; in 'La Bellie Noiseuse', for example, Jean-Jacques Rivette created an explicit plot justification for not having to show the painting that is the film's centrepiece to his viewers, rather than letting us judge it. By contrast, in this film, Georgia sounds genuinely good, while Sadie veers between downright awful and almost interesting; this allows the film to actually use the music as a means of conveying the narrative of the story. This slows the pace of the film, and if you don't like the types of music played, might be excruciating; but it's interesting to see the (fictional) truth conveyed through the medium of performance.
One of the film's strengths is that it grants us no indulgent fantasies; because of this, the narrative arc is limited (especially as the film is quite long). In some senses, the film resembles other great films about the self-destructive, like 'Five Easy Pieces' or 'Naked'. It's not quite in that class, but it's double-headed structure makes it more reflective, less visceral, but by no means uninteresting. Overall, it's an unjustly neglected work.