‘Gia’: I Have to Go, We All Have to Go

[7 November 2011]

By Dominique Cruz

“She felt too close to me. That desire to want to feel a real sense of self other than the very superficial things in this world. The need to feel that we are understood and loved for who we are.”
—Angelina Jolie, Inside The Actors Studio (2005)

If there was ever an actress that could make a dated story relevant and captivating again, it’s Angelina Jolie. In 1998 she did just that with arguably one of her greatest performances to date, portraying heroin addict/model Gia Carangi, who set herself apart from the pack of vanilla look-a-likes by just being herself, and was thrown into the modeling world and a life of superficiality. The film opens up with a disclaimer that this is a story told from the journals of Carangi and also real accounts by the people who knew her—or at least, those that thought they knew her.

The grainy docu-feel of some of the interviews with “family and friends” works for the feel of the ‘80s, which was the predominant decade shown from the unpolished HBO film. The mixing of both black and white film for the photo shoot sequences and color for the reality of Carangi’s life works well until the half way mark. In exchange for the photo shoots that she inevitable was no longer booking, because of her wild behavior, the black and white scenes transferred into the model getting high and being in an all around stupor.

While the choice of this two-sided mirror is unique, it makes the viewing of the film disjointed, as if the editors were trying too hard to make something grander from what should have been scaled down. When the back and forth of the filtered frames weren’t distracting, it was the cheesy almost painfully clichéd lines from the supporting cast (“When you have everything. What do you have? You have nothing.”) Then there was the problematic score that left much to be desired, and was mostly clogged up with an overly dramatic tone of sweeping saxophones that did nothing but saturate the film’s beautiful moments with a bad after taste of melodrama.

The foundation of the biopic is the Golden Globe winning performance by Jolie, who single handedly held the uneven film together by building the excitement of Gia. To the lost and sometimes narcissist narration written in journals (“A box has six sides, an inside and outside, so how do you get to what’s inside? How do you get what’s inside, out?”) From her sexual prowess and unhinged spontaneity that made Jolie a star in her own right. With the flicker of just one look Jolie captures the innocence of a little girl looking for love, and a young woman that was forced to grow up too quickly in the inner suburbs of Philadelphia and it’s because of this that every scene watching Jolie from one extreme to the next is just as exciting as watching an action sequence.

It was easy to care about Gia from her highs to her lows and tragic death in 1984 because of the life captured on the screen. Jolie made her worth rooting for even though most people are aware (now because of the film) of how her struggle ends.

If there was something to applaud in the script, it was the telling nature of the erratic relationships she shares with women that give a sense of depth and a real point of reference of what went wrong in this tragic fairytale. The relationship with her mother being the most significant. The two are seen either estranged or always at odds. In one scene, when her mother has to leave after staying at Carangi’s New York apartment for some time, Gia begs, screams, feeling rejected she cries, “I need you. I need you now.” which only gets a response of “You’re a big girl. Act like it.” 

There’s also Linda, a closeted woman who she falls in love with, but who has a boyfriend on the side. The first time after they sleep together, when Linda is heading out the door, Carangi confronts her in a reserved almost metaphysical way, “I have to go. I have to go. Everybody always has to go. Where the fuck does everybody go when they have to go?” This relationship makes up a big chunk of the film, and throughout the duration we see the intimacy issues that Carangi goes through, and heartbreak she experiences by not being the only one in Linda’s life.

Then there’s Wilhelmina Cooper (brilliantly played by Faye Dunaway), the woman who signs Carangi, and essentially becomes the only mother-type figure that she can fully open herself up to. When she passes from cancer, the ground is once again ripped out from under the model. So we’re forced as the audience to follow her down the rabbit hole, watching a young girl who just wants to feel pretty, and celebrated, destroy herself with drugs.

From all of the interviewers it’s her ex lover that gets it right stating, “Anybody who tries to tell you exactly who she was didn’t know her at all.” A very telling testimony from a woman who might have known her soul better than anyone else. By the story’s end you feel as though you spent a lifetime with the woman but as quickly as she comes into the first frame of the scene, she leaves just as mysteriously.

Draped in a white sheet, she succumbs to AIDS in a hospital bed, alone. In the scene the words from her own journal are spoken powerfully by Jolie, “Life and death, energy and peace. If I stop today, it was still worth it. Even the terrible mistakes that I have made, and would have unmade if I could. The pains that have burned me, and scarred my soul. It was worth it for having been allowed to walk where I walked. Which was hell on earth, heaven on earth. Back again, into, under, far in between, through it, in it and above.”

It’s a tale that’s all too familiar especially with the Lindsay Lohan’s of today, but Jolie commands the viewer to watch her with attention, and to open one’s self up to feeling vulnerable enough to let this lost girl in. Perhaps it’s Jolie’s instinctual performance, and maybe it’s the lost potential from a girl who sealed her fate at such a young age. Even if you’ve never heard of the model, or are revisiting it her story 12 years later, the story of Gia leaves something to think about after the credits roll.

No extras are included with this disc.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/150287-gia-bluray/