Picks and Pans Review: Georgia

UPDATED 12/11/1995 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/11/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mare Winningham

Sisterhood is powerful, especially in this unflinching look at the push and pull of sibling ties. Boosted by Leigh's blistering performance, Georgia is about, two siblings who are in conflict because one (Winningham) sings and the other (Leigh) doesn't. Well, Leigh does sing, but not even a quarter as skillfully or successfully as her older sister whom she worships. She also has the desire, but she lacks Winningham's talent and discipline.

Instead, she rushes headlong into life, drinking and shooting drugs and messing up every way she can. Winningham, meanwhile, retreats from the world, returning between concert tours to her farm outside Seattle and her husband (Ted Levine) and kids.

Unlike so many movies today that seem to have been tacked together from prefab plot kits, Georgia never gives away what's coming next. The movie surprises—and touches—you again and again. In one scene, Leigh, whose singing has until this point sounded like Julie London on Quaaludes, suddenly rips into Van Morrison's "Take Me Back" as if her character's life depended on it (and, in a way, it does). In another, barefoot and strung out on heroin, she beseeches, in increasingly foul language, the other passengers in an airport lounge to lend her shoes so that she can board a plane and put herself back in her sister's care.

Much of this isn't pretty to watch but, as written by Barbara Turner (Leigh's mother) and directed with a sensitive, no-frills approach by Ulu Grosbard, it is riveting. Leigh's character may be exhausting, but it is exhilarating to watch the actress, her eyes great kohl-rimmed pools of hope and hurt, dive deep and find the person beneath all this pathetic flailing. Winningham, in the less showy role of the older sister who willingly plays caretaker but resents every minute of it, is equally good. There is also deft supporting work from Levine as Winningham's laconic husband, Max Perlich as a grocery boy who is Leigh's worshipful suitor, and John Doe and John C. Reilly as Leigh's bandmates. This Georgia will definitely be staying on my mind. (R)

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