17 May 2010

Retro Review: Gia (1998)



D+

Gia
1998, 120mins, 18
Director: Michael Cristofer
Writer (s): Michael Cristofer, Jay McInerney
Cast includes: Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Mitchell, Faye Dunaway, Eric Michael Cole, Mercedes Ruehl
UK Release Date: 21st October 1998

“Gia” is a drab biopic with a sparkling lead performance. Angelina Jolie is aggressively sexual and disarmingly sympathetic as America’s first supermodel, Gia Carangi; a woman who endured a tumultuous career before dying of AIDS at the age of 26. However leaving the film’s leading lady aside, “Gia” is a picture devoted to dreary reminiscing and lethargic production design, the screenplay never really lifting off the ground. As a mechanical retelling of Carangi’s story it’s adequate, but the picture never really achieves any true depth or emotional resonance. Jolie’s performance means that audiences will feel some connection with the title character, but even an actress as formidable as Angie can’t compensate for all the picture’s other disastrous facets.

Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) was a girl from a broken home, who went onto become America’s first supermodel. Blessed with true beauty, a fiery personality and a lucky transition into the fashion industry, Gia’s story starts with promise, but promptly fades into tragedy. After a string of failed relationships and the constant strain of public exposure, Gia became a hardcore druggie; something that eventually led to her demise in 1986. “Gia” looks at both the model’s personal and professional lifestyles, albeit with less insight and clarity than most viewers will likely be pining for.

Jolie is excellent as Gia, everything that’s good about this movie can be traced back to her. The screenplay only really touches the character’s surface, leaving the actress to dissect the rest of Gia’s personality herself. Despite the pictures general lack of commitment to the subject, it’s remarkable that Jolie succeeds as royally as she does, bringing a delightful innocence and sexual dynamism to the screen in “Gia”. Jolie keeps her momentum going from start to finish, despite the fact the movie sags and blunders all around her. The supporting cast don’t do much to help matters; they’re a morbid and often stilted selection; failing to being the same kinetic sass to their characters as Jolie does hers. Elizabeth Mitchell is a particularly disappointing as Gia’s true love, especially given the fact her role is packed with more meat than most. Faye Dunaway appears briefly as the woman who helps lever Gia into the industry, whilst Mercedes Ruehl feels flat and one note as the model’s conflicted mother. It’s an unimpressive assortment of performances, although the generally low standard only further emphasises Jolie’s brilliance.

Director Michael Cristofer goes through the motions with “Gia”, spending more time setting up elaborate visual tricks than delving deep within the material. Cristofer shoots the fashion sequences competently and handles the moderately regular nudity with at least some artistic integrity; but his storytelling skills are in need of considerable honing on the evidence of “Gia”. The whole enterprise feels stale and underdeveloped, Cristofer showing little concern for any element of the tale that isn’t seedy or depraved. The relationships between characters are wastefully dull, and at no point does the filmmaker appear to have a grip on the story’s human elements. “Gia” is in short an uninvolving picture, lacking the emotional understanding or tenderness to mark it out as an effective tragedy. Jolie sporadically manages to pull the viewer in on her performance alone, but mostly that isn’t enough; such a juncture being the film’s tearjerker finale. The ultimate sign of the movie’s failure is that by the end the audience doesn’t really care, rendering this vehicle a hopelessly cold stab at biographical cinema.

The picture addresses taboo topics like drug abuse, AIDs and lesbian sex with little wit or fresh perspective, recycling the same surface level revelations we’ve seen thousands of times before. Simply referencing these topics doesn’t make a film important or controversial, however a detailed look and intriguing message might. “Gia” can muster neither of those things; it happily pumps out the same lazy observations and conclusions that films had been doing well before 1998. Simply saying that AIDs is “heartbreaking” or drugs are “potentially damaging” is hardly incisive or cutthroat, the lack of added value rendering “Gia” a pedestrian social commentary.

“Gia” isn’t a successful film by any means, it’s obvious how it provided a springboard for Jolie’s career; but otherwise the lack of future fulfilment for other contributors isn’t hard to fathom. The picture is weighed down by its obsession with Cristofer’s unremarkable visual focus, leaving the rest of the production a heartless and unconvincing mess. I’ll happily repeat again that Jolie is breathtakingly efficient, but other than that “Gia” is a harsh and unpleasant way to spend two hours.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

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