directed by Ulu Grosbard
(Miramax, 1995)

Meet Sadie Flood. Sadie has a sister named Georgia, and Georgia has a major motion picture named after her. Sadie and Georgia are years apart chronologically, light years apart socially and intellectually. Yet they're Siamese twins, joined at the ego. It's an uncomfortable coupling, the kind only families can make.

Georgia (Mare Winningham) deals with it by retreating into middle class stoicism. Sadie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) tries to anesthetize herself with everything from alcohol to heroine. Neither woman succeeds. And therein lies a tale.

The tale opens with Sadie arriving in Seattle to see Georgia in concert, for Georgia, like everyone else in the Seattle area, makes a living as a musician. Sadie would like to earn her keep as a musician, too, but she has two strikes against her: Extreme chemical dependency and extreme lack of talent. But that's only a slight hindrance in Seattle, especially if you look like Leigh, wear lots of eye shadow and know a band that does lots of Lou Reed. Sadie does, and life is good: Her career as a backup singer gets off to a promising start; a good man walks into her life, carrying a box of groceries no less; and work is steady even if she is not.

Where all this is leading, of course, we have no idea. Unfortunately, neither did Barbara Turner, who wrote an co-produced the film, or Ulu Grosbard, who directed it.

The problem manifests itself early, as it becomes apparent that Georgia has no sights set for itself. Sure, Sadie wants to make it as a singer, Sadie wants to emerge from Georgia's shadow, Sadie wants a husband like Georgia's Jake (Ted Levine). But never is that verbalized, and rarely does Sadie head off in that direction. Instead, the film, like Sadie, drifts from one situation to another, until, like Sadie, it ends up in detox.

That's unfortunate, because where Georgia succeeds, it's stunning.

It gives us a finely etched portrait of Seattle's music scene, with Georgia holding down the country side and Sadie churning up lots of grunge, including a grunge Jewish wedding reception. It's beautifully photographed and overrun with interesting characters, and the dialogue, when not mired down in rock cliches, is just oblique enough to turn up an occasional pearl of wisdom.

But the topper is Leigh's performance as Sadie, the self-destructive woman-child who puts herself through so much for so little.

From her first breathy performance of "Almost Blue" to her film-ending, gravel-throat warbling of "Hard Times," Leigh is at the top of her form, offering up everything we love and hate about rock 'n' roll -- the energy, the nerve, the cliff-hanging desperation, the mind-numbing stereotypes. In her swaggering, swaying performance is inscribed the whole history of a musical genre gone wrong, of houses divided against themselves.

Without a final payoff, however, Georgia is destined to remain an intriguing film, a disturbing film, an insightful film, but never a best-list film.

It works as a searing portrait of a time and a scene, but falls short of what most people look for in a film -- a sense of having arrived somewhere.

It's deep, yes, but just as deeply flawed: well worth the price of admission, but, alas, no keeper.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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