Release Date(s)1995 (April 7, 2023)
Studio(s)Miramax Films (Imprint/Via Vision)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray import from Australia.]
Georgia is a character study of two sisters, one successful in both her personal and her professional life, the other a veritable train wreck who aspires to the fame of her talented sibling. Rather than a traditional narrative, the film is composed of episodes that create a portrait of a challenging family relationship.
Georgia Flood (Mare Winningham) is an accomplished folk singer in the mold of Judy Collins and Mary Travers. Married, with two children, she’s the complete opposite of her younger sister, Sadie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an addict with a voice like sandpaper. Sadie loves Georgia and aspires to her fame, although in a very different style, but lacks the talent to achieve it. Ever hopeful, Sadie manages to hook up with scrubby bands and play gigs in half-empty dive bars. “I’ll make it soon,” she optimistically tells Georgia.
But as with many addicts, Sadie’s dependency is her worst enemy. In an alcoholic haze from morning to night, she eventually graduates to heroin.
Desperate, hard-living and constantly strung-out, she lacks self-discipline and focus, not to mention self-realization about her talent or lack of it. Envious of Georgia’s self-assurance and musicianship, Sadie finds herself time and time again in need of Georgia’s caretaking and warnings. If, in addition to her fame, it’s Georgia’s domestic tranquility she admires, Sadie hasn’t a glimmer of how to achieve it.
Leigh’s performance is raw and spontaneous. When she performs, though her voice is off-key and grating, she captivates by baring Sadie’s soul. A lengthy rendition of Van Morrison’s Take Me Back is embarrassing, yet Sadie forges though it with raw emotion. When Georgia, watching from the side of the stage, feels Sadie is going off the rails, she moves to a microphone and gently, melodically turns the solo into a duet to guide the song to a musically appropriate conclusion. This scene metaphorically represents the relationship between the two women. Georgia will always be there when Sadie needs help.
Winningham, who has a beautiful voice, sings the songs live rather than lip-syncing to a playback, which is the usual way songs are recorded for movies. This choice creates an immediacy that enhances the performance scenes. The contrast between the venues the sisters perform in reflects their standing in the music world. Georgia plays theaters with large, cheering audiences. Sadie scrounges for one-night stands in bars and is always on the road looking for the next gig. At one point, she fronts a band uncharacteristically playing at a Bar Mitzvah, enthusiastically bellowing Hava Nagila to the assembled guests. Though she customarily performs for drunks and an unappreciative audience, she puts her all into her singing and loves being on stage. She has the magnetism of a Janis Joplin but lacks the talent to back it up.
Director Ulu Grosbard devotes most of the screen time to Sadie. The role is flamboyant and in your face, while the role of Georgia is quiet and subdued. Much of Winningham’s performance depends on her facial expressions and body language. We know exactly what Georgia is thinking when the camera cuts to a reaction shot. Georgia is always in control. Sadie goes with the flow. Sadie is family and Georgia will never abandon her, but she’s high-maintenance when she’s around. Georgia has established an emotional shield to protect herself and her family from Sadie’s vices.
Written by Barbara Turner, the script traces the complicated relationship between Georgia and Sadie. Maybe because the script feels so authentic, there’s a feeling of disappointment when things don’t work out neatly. There’s never an assurance that Sadie will stay off alcohol and drugs or choose a practical path in life. Though not completely pessimistic, the film is open-ended.
Sadie’s type of story has been told in other forms in other movies. A Star Is Born, Leaving Las Vegas, Basketball Diaries, and Requiem for a Dream, among other films, portray the horrors of addiction, so Sadie’s demons are familiar. Director Grosbard keeps Sadie at a distance and, though we can sympathize with her dependence, she’s not a likable individual. She’s completely self-centered and her outlook on her life and talent is delusional. Presented as a freakish entity, Sadie is a voyeuristic centerpiece.
Georgia was shot by director of photography Jan Kiesser on 35 mm color film and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Lighting is crucial when the focus is on the two sisters in performance venues. When we see Georgia, she’s on stage with flattering theatrical lighting as she performs for a large audience, seen only in silhouette. When we see Sadie, she’s in a cramped performance area wherever she’s managed to get a gig, with customers who are more interested in drinking than in listening to her songs. A harsh, unforgiving spotlight emphasizes her raccoon-like eye make-up. Clarity is excellent and details such as items strewn about in Sadie’s dingy apartment, Georgia’s neat kitchen, the band’s instruments, needle marks on Sadie’s legs and arms, and designs on clothing are nicely delineated.
The soundtrack is English LPCM 2.0 Stereo. English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. Sadie speaks with a combination of earnestness, alcohol haze and trepidation when she performs. Georgia, on the other hand, is all about control. She speaks softly, though at times we know Sadie’s actions have her inwardly seething. The songs include Mare Winningham’s renditions of If I Wanted, Hard Times and, with Steven Soles and Ken Stringfello, Mercy. Jennifer Jason Leigh sings Almost Blue, Take Me Back, Midnight Train to Georgia, and reprises Hard Times. The musical numbers are often blended with ambient audience cheering or clinking glasses and other barroom sounds. Winningham’s first song in the film—Hard Times—establishes Georgia as a talented artist, totally in control of her performance and the effect the song has on her audience. A scene in an airport contains typical airport sounds, such as PA announcements about planes arriving and departing, shuffling crowds of travelers, and planes taking off.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
- The Flipside of the Static (44:22)
- Archival Interview with Jennifer Jason Leigh (5:23)
- Archival Interview with Mare Winningham (4:18)
- Archival Interview with John Doe (4:24)
- Archival Interview with Barbara Turner (4:21)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:34)
Film historians Reesman and Evry offer an informative discussion about Georgia. Jennifer Jason Leigh contacted her mother, Barbara Turner, about the project and bankrolled her for a trip to Seattle to research the indie music scene and write a script. Leigh was comfortable with John Doe and wanted him in the film. The commentators discuss the genesis of the idea for Georgia and its casting. Mare Winningham was known for her woman-in-peril roles. She appeared in many TV movies and guest shots on dramatic shows and in the theatrical release Freedom, directed by Barbara Turner. Winningham was able to “escape the stigma of the Brat Pack.” Career overviews are provided for both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham. There’s a discussion about addicts and how family and friends react to them. Eventually, addicts must take charge of their own life and compulsive behavior. Sadie exhibits passive-aggressive behavior. Winningham nearly backed out of the film over concerns about her screen image. Her singing voice is compared to that of Judy Collins. Georgia’s having a third child might have been predicated on her desire to avoid the sibling rivalry in her own kids that has defined the relationship between her and Sadie. Sadie wants validation from Georgia, which never comes. The viewer can sympathize with both characters. The film was made during an outpouring of independent films from studios like Miramax, Hemdale, New Line, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Canon, and others. Several cameras were used in shooting the musical numbers live, which showed how the singer connected to the song and the audience. Mare Winningham was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Jennifer Jason Leigh was voted the year’s Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle. Excerpts from reviews of the film are read. The film grossed $1.1 million on its original theatrical release.
The Flipside of the Static – John Doe notes that his work in Georgia is a highlight of his acting career. He played Bobby, the musical director of the fictional indie band in the film. He was seduced by the “dark side of indie rock.” Doe assembled all the players and speaks about the relationship among them. The film is not plot driven, but an “emotional arc.” Clips from “Georgia” are shown throughout Doe’s interview.
Archival Interview: Jennifer Jason Leigh – The role of Sadie was exhausting. Leigh always loved to sing. She describes Sadie as “raw and naked” when she sings. She spoke with many people in the music field about their background and experiences. The mannerisms she uses emerged from playing the role. Sadie doesn’t understand why she drives people away. At the end of filming, Leigh was “emaciated” and weighed only 89 pounds.
Archival Interview: Mare Winningham – Winningham says that she’s been singing her whole life because it gives her enjoyment. She notes that the live recording of the music was instrumental to the success of the film. She speaks about two upcoming movies—The Boys Next Door and Fresh Paint.
Archival Interview: John Doe – Doe has had a successful career as both musician and actor. He prefers acting because it can be done longer, but it’s harder. There’s a lot of waiting (“That’s what they pay you for”). During his career, he’s seen many people destroyed by drug abuse like Sadie, and he mentions a few. He discusses how playing Sadie affected Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Archival Interview: Barbara Turner – Turner discusses the unusual relationship of a mother and daughter collaborating on a film. Many of the musicians’ stories wound up in the film. She emphasizes the intense, supportive love the sisters feel for each other. Sadie wants fame because Georgia has it, yet she fails to recognize her own limitations.
Georgia looks at a sibling relationship complicated by drug abuse, unrealistic goals, and emotional dependency. Leigh and Winningham portray Sadie and Georgia as individuals dramatically dissimilar yet possessing insight into one another that only sisters could have.
- Dennis Seuling