Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gia (1998) - Angelina Jolie's Best Performance

Gia 1998 DVD cover
"Gia" (1998).

The late '70s were a wild ride if you were young, rich and had too much time on your hands (and not so hot if you were unemployed due to stagflation, but that's another story). For a first-hand account, pick up a copy of ("Brady Bunch" Marcia) Maureen McCormick's memoir of that time. As the decade wound down, those who had been flying high succumbed, one after the other, to the spiraling circle of Hell that flowed from endless supplies of little-understood drugs and related sexual debauchery.

Angelina Jolie in Gia 1998
Angelina looking cute as "Gia."

Many of the casualties of that period survived, but quite a few didn't. If they didn't overdose or get hit by a bus while high, they contracted horrible diseases like AIDS. I'm personally convinced that the AIDS epidemic, which bloomed in the early '80s, was a direct result of the excesses of the late '70s.

Angelina Jolie in black leather in Gia 1998
"I'm bad, I'm bad - do you believe me yet?" - "NO, REALLY, I'm bad, I'm bad!" "Gia" tends to make the central character into a caricature at times.

"Gia" (1998), directed by Michael Cristofer for HBO Pictures, is the story of one such casualty, who actually encapsulates the entire cycle. Gia Carangi was a Wilhelmina high-fashion model, widely exposed but hardly a household name, who tripped down the merry path and got stung, ultimately passing away from AIDS complications. It's easy to say she was asking for it and got what she deserved, but diseases like AIDS are hardly given out only to the unworthy. Anyone who believes that is living in the wrong century, and would be more at home in the days of the Scarlet A. Diseases are diseases, they are not punishment.

Angelina Jolie sexy cocktail dress
Angelina looks better in a cocktail dress, but she is stunning throughout "Gia."

Angelina Jolie plays the title role in the performance of her career. She gets to show the full range of emotions as first success, then depravity overtakes her character. To me, the story is depressing because the horrible conclusion is pre-ordained, but, believe me, you don't have to get engrossed in the narrative to find reasons to like this flick.

Angelina Jolie in sheer bra and panties in Gia 1998
The famous "Gia" elevator scene is like this, only without the bra.

Hollywood is composed of two types of actresses: those who do nudity, and those who don't have to. If it works out right, those who do use that to become successful, and then become one of those who don't. It's rare for an actress to never venture into the camp of those who do - think Jennifer Aniston, whose successful actor father paved the way for her. Jolie falls into the more typical camp of those who did to get ahead, then didn't. This is the role that she used to show everything, after which she didn't have to show much at all. You know, "I'm bad, I'm wild, I'll do anything, I'll hint I'm doing my brother, I'll carry vials of blood around my neck, I'm just so wild, do you believe me yet?", then, after she makes her money by acting like the bad girl, she doesn't do anything edgy at all. Little Miss "I only live to help African orphans." The usual Hollywood story, see Jane Fonda and a host of others.

Angelina Jolie in Gia 1998 posing in blood red lipstick
Angelina Jolie with very red lipstick on in "Gia."

Yes, there are others in the cast, and some of the names are surprising. A young Mila Kunis appears as Gia as a child, and Faye Dunaway has a small role. Then-little-known Elizabeth Mitchell ("Lost") plays Gia's erstwhile girlfriend, a lesbian make-up artist, and trust me, her scenes with Angelina are about as hot as a soft-core cable TV movie can get. That's pretty hot.

Elizabeth Mitchell on phone in Gia 1998
Elizabeth Mitchell with normal lipstick on. How boring! But "Gia" heats up soon after this.

There are a few scenes that really stand out. One is a photography session where Gia is naked and leaps against a steel fence like a caged animal toward a girl she likes, full of passion and fury. This, obviously, is a very fantasized vision of lesbian seduction. Only you know if you like that sort of thing. Screenplay writer has a vivid imagination - and I like it!

Angelina Jolie Elizabeth Mitchell topless kissing fence
Two ladies going at it in "Gia"! It is no-holds-barred for Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Another worthy scene is where Gia, topless, follows her girlfriend out into a public hallway in her apartment building to finish a discussion. I'm sure it was a very important discussion, but most people stop to pick up a shirt or jacket before baring their boobs in public. You have to admire Jolie for being completely unselfconscious in this scene. There are no tricks, nowhere to hide, there she is, just out there in the open, nicely lit, and she's completely relaxed. And, as Jerry would say, they're spectacular!

Angelina Jolie showing her breasts in Gia
Sorry, can't show you the famous elevator scene. This shot of Angelina Jolie will have to do.

There is a pretty good lesbian scene between Jolie and Mitchell, though it doesn't quite have the "wow" factor that such a scene might have conjured up if filmed somewhat differently. It is more a standard cable movie sex scene, and you can find those just about anywhere. Of course, the only one with a major star like Jolie (she won her Oscar only two years later) is right here in "Gia."

Angelina Jolie lesbian kiss
Go ahead and kiss, ladies, see if I care. Go ahead, make my day.

Those are the reasons to watch this film. Yes, there is plenty of "fine acting" as Gia appears, magnificently coiffed, in her hospital bed, in scenes with her friends as she waits to die, and so on and so forth. If you really want to, you can watch the whole thing, but you won't gain a whole lot by doing so.

Angelina Jolie in hospital bed in Gia 1998
I hope my hair is that good on my deathbed. I'm just sayin'....

This movie has its place on the shelf. Just don't expect "Gone With The Wind" or "Vertigo." It is more like "The Hot Spot," "The Dreamers," or "Stealing Beauty" in terms of showing a hot young actress in provocative situations. Ask yourself this one question: do you want to see a topless young Angelina Jolie in sexual situations when she was still working it to become a big star, after which she didn't have to work it any longer and stayed covered up? If so, find a copy. This one's for you.


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