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Movie Reviews

Gia  

America's first supermodel Gia Carangi lives hard and dies young in the glamorous, excessive urban wilds of 1970s New York City. Adapted by Cristofer and novelist Jay McInerney from the biography "Thing of Beauty" by Stephen Fried. Made for HBO.

 Buy Gia on Video(1998) VHS
Buy Gia on [DVD](1998) DVD
She was called America's first supermodel, but while her face made her an international celebrity, her insatiable desires--for fame, sex and drugs--led to her downfall. Gorgeous Angelina Jolie is mesmerizing as Philadelphia-born cover girl Gia Carangi, whose meteoric career led to her death in 1986 at the age of 26, in this compelling and provocative biodrama. Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Mitchell and Mercedes Ruehl also star. 120 min. Standard; Soundtracks: English Dolby Surround, Spanish; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; biographies; filmographies; photo gallery; scene access.

  Gia Cast and Crew
Composer Terence Blanchard
Director Michael Cristofer
Director of Photography Rodrigo García
Editor Eric Sears
Producer James D. Brubaker
Production Designer David Bomba
Screenwriter Michael Cristofer
Jay McInerney
Starring Faye Dunaway ,Angelina Jolie, Mercedes Ruehl

The modelling world seems like the kind of environment which seems dazzling and exciting on the outside yet ugly, rotten and soul-destroying on the inside. The HBO docu-drama Gia is a brutal, painful version of this reflection.

Based on the true story of her rise and terrible fall in the modelling world, Gia, played by Angelina Jolie, is revealed to have had a very aggressive, often angry exterior which masked a neediness and loneliness which, despite numerous attempts through partying and drugs, never escaped her, and proved to be her downfall. The movie begins with a short look at her young life, living in a volatile home, where it's clear the parents don`t get along. Gia retreats into a fantasy world, writing in her diary of a girl with golden hair, living in a nice house where everyone is welcome. Later, as we see her in her late teens, her personality has grown harsher, more risky, as she flings herself into the excitement and sexual ambiguity of the city's underbelly.

Alongside this, she has a desire to become a fashion model, eventually getting an appointment with an executive of a premier agency, played by Faye Dunaway. Gia`s uniqueness is not so much in her beauty but in her attitude, which seems a true contrast to those who came before her. Gia is not soft, as is shown in the scene where she attempts to convince the receptionist she has an appointment. Gia goes so far as to carve her name on the desk, hoping that the receptionist can get it through her thick skull that this is not some stupid dreamer thinking she`s all that. Dunaway`s character obviously admires Gia's aggressiveness, even as she tries to tell her such things like expressing an opinion aren`t encouraged in this business.

Eventually, Gia falls in love, with another model, Helen, a woman who, in my view, is the total opposite of what Gia is. Helen is a gentle, fairly clean-cut individual. Gia, however, becomes embroiled in a downward spiral of drug addiction; first, prescription pills, then, inevitably, cocaine and crack. It is only a matter of time before tragedy strikes, and it does.

To me, the love story contains the meat of the production, as it tells the tragic affair in the equally painful context of Gia`s downfall. The two women are strongly attracted to one another, of course, yet, for Gia, the affair doesn`t seem to revolve around sex, but around need. Gia wants someone to be with her, and there are a number of scenes where she pleas, begs, and in some cases smashes things because she can`t get what she wants. Her fear of being left alone is so intense that when she phones Helen`s apartment and gets the voice of a man who turns out to be someone from the moving company, she runs away and creates havoc on the streets and on the cop who stops her. And the drugs play a major factor in that she simply cannot have a life with only the drugs or Helen, and there is a painful moment where she is confronted with that choice. Gia's mother is also a focal point in that Gia also needs her presence, but as with Helen, the mother often cannot handle the presence of an emotionally draining addict, which only makes the pain inside Gia more tough to bear.

I believe what happens to Gia is what's to be expected in a world such as modelling. In a world where you are treated as an object, where everything else about you cannot ever be revealed, where you are not allowed to look and act like yourself, where you can only have the look the photographers give you, and where you only hang out with people in the same boat as you, of course you would be obsessed with finding happiness anywhere. And in a world where only surface pleasures and hedonism is encouraged, of course models would likely turn to drugs, since those also are essentially base pleasures. It`s not a coincidence that half the models in the world look as if they are addicted. They might look too lively otherwise. If Gia had a hobby like, I don`t know, stamp collecting, or maybe pig farming, that might just look a little too much like the life of an ordinary person, and models are supposed to have the party life, the wild life, the glamourous life. Perhaps that is fine for a while, but this life has to last 24/7, and that will take its toll on anyone. It would have been much better for a person like Gia to be ordinary, a plain sort. At least she might have found happiness, and a longer life.

My little theory presents a problem for me, however, because, while I can logically agree with what I said, I still can`t deny that the models presents in such events do have a beauty to them. It is perfectly natural to adore such perfections, even if they are created and not the natural original woman. (And there is a good scene in the rehab centre when a patient taunts Gia by claiming there should be a warning label in all fashion magazines saying nobody can be this perfect, not even Gia.) And Angelina Jolie herself is a stunning individual, with a round, expressive face, wonderfully ample breasts, an overall comfortable body. And the movie itself, even as it tries to criticise the fashion world, lapses into its own exploitation of sorts when it depicts the beginnings of the two models' love affair, which seem more like soft-porn than gritty romance.

The catch, however, is that Gia is real, at least as real as an HBO docu-drama will allow. And her depiction automatically makes her more interesting than any nameless, mindless model strutting down the catwalk. Sure, a beautiful face is appealing, but after a while it becomes boring, for we really haven`t learned a thing about who owns that face. It`s the same as a great image from a film. It only works if we know what's behind it. It can`t work as well by itself. Jolie`s performance as Gia allows you to at least see a life beyond the Vouge covers. Jolie successfully portrays the torture involved in living a life of excess and fleeting pleasures. You could not help but feel at least a bit moved by her pain, even if she tries to heal it by doing stupid things like drugs, and hurts those closest to her, because her profession virtually encourages this. Some people have denounced the movie because of the belief there`s no need to see a movie about the painful life and death of a model. This is as cruel as the disposable way the fashion world treats those very same models. Every person has a story, containing both happiness and pain in varying quantities, and Gia, though far from classic, is another one of those human stories which can`t help but to be told.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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