Directed: Michael Cristofer
Written: 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 actresses in Hollywood. She's made some absolutely horrible films, but some great ones too, and she is one of the few actresses around at the moment who consistently performs well. Even when a film is bad, she's generally the best thing in it.
Jolie's 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. In both cases she had amazing scripts and a talented supporting cast. In Gia, she's backed by the superb 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 predator it would become.
Carangi was also 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 she's ultimately powerless to save Gia as she hurtles towards her own destruction. During their good times the couple are infectiously happy and we can't help cheering for them, hoping beyond hope that somehow Linda will avert the tragedy that's coming.
Jolie is riveting. From street urchin to high fashion model, the transformation is amazing. She plays both with equal passion. That Jolie actually bears a physical resemblance to Carangi matters not at all. Even if she didn't I feel like I still would have believed her. Gia sucked the life out of everything around her to fuel her own personality. 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 gay (she brought 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, it just leaves you aching.
We ache for the life these beautiful woman could have had together. We laugh at their first meeting where she's convinced to discard her clothes for 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 dragged away from Gia to the people she is leaving behind. We see their devastation, but also how her death brought both Gia and her loved ones a measure of peace. It's a horrifying conclusion 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. 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 detracts senselessly from the film as a whole as her physical presence is so important to the role. Besides, I always believe in watching the film that the filmmaker intended to make, not what the classification board believes is OK for me to watch.