This is a review of the unrated DVD edition of *Gia*, an HBO television movie originally aired in 1998. It stars Angelina Jolie as Gia Marie Carangi. Mercedes Ruehl is Kathleen Carangi, Gia's mother. Eric Michael Cole plays T.J., Gia's sometimes boyfriend. Elizabeth Mitchell is Linda, Gia's girl lover. Fay Dunaway is Wilhemina Cooper, Gia's manager at the Wilhemina Modeling Agency. Michael Christofer directs. Two years after *Gia*, he would direct Ms Jolie and Antonio Banderas in *Original Sin.*
*Gia* the movie is far from perfect. But "Gia" the character played by Angelina Jolie is one of the very best dramatic performances ever put to film. The emotional nakedness that Ms Jolie displays reminds me of young Timothy Hutton in *Ordindary People* (1980), a most moving role that won the Oscar for this new face in Hollywood. Many filmgoers agree that if *Gia* had been made for cinema, Ms Jolie would have likewise won an Oscar. She won a Golden Globe, her second.
About *Gia* the film, it doesn't try hard enough to show us what actually happened to Gia Marie Carangi. Perhaps that's because many of the people who knew Carangi and worked with her are still alive; maybe some of them have objections to a real biopic. I don't know. What I do know is that the HBO *Gia* is more of a fictionalized impression of "America's first supermodel" than a true presentation of the facts of her life. All the "talking heads" who speak about Gia as if they knew her personally are actors who did not know her at all. Mercedes Ruehl as Kathleen Carangi has the most to tell us; but the real mother of Gia Marie Carangi denounced the film as a misrepresentation of her daughter.
I'll give one example of misrepresentation. In the HBO film, the character Linda plays a major role in Gia's life. But there was no Linda at all. In fact there was, as the film shows, a makeup girl who was photographed with Gia on an indoor set with a chain link fence as a prop. But though some said she was sexually involved with Gia, that girl herself denied it. Apart from what Gia did or did not have going with the makeup girl, she did have a lesbian girlfriend. But like Gia, this girlfriend was addicted to heroin. So the Linda played by Elizabeth Mitchell who is drugfree and who so tenderly helps Gia get clean is an invention of the scriptwriters.
An individual who maintains an Internet website dedicated to the real Gia Marie Carangi declares that Gia's journal (the one Ms Jolie sometimes speaks offscreen from, with the verse that begins: "Life and death, energy and peace...") is a fiction. Those words are not, this invididual insists, written by Gia Marie Carangi. For my part as a reviewer of the DVD, all I can say, once more, is that I don't know. But there is no denying that the filmscript as a biography is highly questionable.
Stylistically the film is a little dull. But I suppose that's normal for a TV movie. The cinematography shifts between color and black-and-white without rhyme nor reason. Either the real Gia was ambidexterous, or there's a major continuity blooper. We see the young Gia, played by Mila Kunis, starting her journal. She writes with her right hand. Later, when noted southpaw Angelina Jolie plays the adult Gia, she carves her name into a desktop with a knife held in her left hand. And with her left hand she signs out on her methadone treatment.
I could go on and on picking the movie apart AS A MOVIE. Finally I'd end up giving *Gia* a rating of 3 stars at best...if it wasn't for what Angelina Jolie did with her role. When she is on screen, she mesmerizes the camera. It's not just her beauty. It's certainly not her sex scene with Elizabeth Mitchell accompanied by the drone of a female singer on the soundtrack. (Corny!) It's three things: 1) the acting; 2) the acting; 3) the acting.
I love movies. I love the history of movies. I love the great stars of movies. And of all I love about movies, I love "sleepers" or "B-film classics" the most. These are low budget films starring actors who were not top names, yet somehow what the camera captured is sheer magic. Example? Reaching way back, Jacques Toureau's 1947 film noir *Out of the Past* starring Robert Mitchum. It's a midnight cheapie. I could pick it apart piece by piece. But if you just shut up and WATCH what the camera saw the actors do, *Out of the Past* transports you out of this world. And despite its technical flaws, so does *Gia*--because of the magic of Angelina Jolie.
In *Gia* there are about a half-dozen scenes performed by Ms Jolie that are so intense, I find them hard to watch unless I've emotionally prepared myself. I can't say positively that one stands out over the others. But if I were to pick a scene that I'm positive would transport any person who sat down to see *Gia* for the first time, I'd pick the last meeting between Gia and Linda, when Ms Jolie says to Elizabeth Mitchell, "You were the one...the only one." A scene like that--that's why movies were invented!
*Gia* is not a documentary. It is hardly even a biopic. Angelina Jolie doesn't show us exactly what Gia Marie Carangi did at 6 PM on December 4th 1981. And then what she did at 3 AM on July 30, 1985. She shows us that Gia was blessed with an extraordinary gift, something exciting, brilliant, entrancing. Sometimes it's called star power. That gift is why Gia rose overnight out of nowhere to the top of the fashion model scene. Ms Jolie is able to show us that gift because she has it herself. It's in that sense that, yes, Angelina Jolie IS Gia, as the DVD boxcover proclaims.
Gia didn't know how to handle her gift. Like the old story of Icarus, she rose on swift wings up to the sun only to have those wings destroyed by solar fire. As fast as she rose, she plummeted back to earth. *Gia* tells a frankly tragic story. But the closing scene--Gia walking away from the deathbed cloaked in folds of white, as if passing on to that next life she told T.J. about, the life in which God has a big plan for her--this scene represents the undying hope that makes a human being human.