For many of us who were around in the 1980s it was a wild time. The fashion, music and lifestyle were all crazy. We look back on it now and shake our heads. One thing that we don’t look back upon with a smile on our collective faces is AIDS. In the early 1980s AIDS burst onto the scene and it was a disease that we didn’t understand very well, so it evoked fear from most. The deadly autoimmune system disease was new and fierce. Before we got a handle on how it was transmitted and what medication would work against it AIDS took the lives of many.
Another important era was the late 1990s as it was a time where cable television station HBO began to establish itself as a wild child. HBO began showing television series and movies that no other network would touch. And I mean this in a good way. No story was too racy or controversial for HBO. It began to gain its reputation as a cutting edge station and Michael Cristofer’s (Original Sin) Gia was one of those movies at the dawn.
Supermodel was also a word that became part of our vocabulary during the 1980s. Even before Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista there was Gia Maria Carangi (Angelina Jolie – Changeling, Salt). Gia was born in Philadelphia in 1960. She was wild and beautiful. It didn’t take long for her to be discovered by a photographer and make the move to New York. Gia was unlike all the other blonde, blue-eyed fashion models. She had dark hair and a wild spirit that translated well into photos. Under the wing of her agent Wilhelmina Cooper (Faye Dunaway – Chinatown, Bonnie & Clyde) Gia became of the hottest models of her time.
With such fame often comes a high price. Despite the fact that she was beautiful and now successful, Gia was an insecure young woman. This probably stemmed from the fact that she felt abandoned at a young age when her mother (Mercedes Ruehl – Married to the Mob, Big) left her father (Louis Giambalvo – Weekend at Bernie’s, Hoffa) for another man. She was wild, but that was just to cover her vulnerability. Working in an industry that put such a high price on how you looked and treated the women who worked in it like chattel was not the best place for Gia, but she was hooked.
A bright side in all of this was when she fell in love with make-up artist Linda (Elizabeth Mitchell – from television’s Lost). Despite the fact that she was in love with Linda it did not stop Gia from getting caught up with drugs. Gia started with pills then moved to cocaine and finally onto injecting heroin. Even with all the threats from Linda and going through rehab, Gia could not stop using. She eventually blew through all her money, Linda left her and she could not work anymore. Gia was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, but it was not enough.
Rewatching this powerful and edgy television film about the beginning of the awful disease we now know as AIDS I began to wonder what happened to that Angelina Jolie. As Gia, Jolie is fierce, beautiful and wonderful. So young and so talented. Now around 15 years later she is still a talented actress, but rarely does she turn in performances so spot on, risky and edgy anymore. It compelling stuff to watch Jolie turn in this performance of a woman so self-destructive. It is almost like she was going through the same issues herself so she really tapped into the emotions required of the part. The courage needed to play this part which required the actress to be naked – physically and emotionally – pretty much throughout is incredible. Not many actresses could have done this role. She brings us a two hour tale of the human condition with all its joy and pain.
Using the words of Gia herself from her journal and the help of people who were close to her, Michael Cristofer has reconstructed the tragic story of one of the first supermodels. Usually these types of films are quite stereotypical and predictable. While you could see the inevitable end coming for Gia due to the solid story and Angelina Jolie’s terrific acting it elevates it to two hours of quite moving stuff. In the more than capable hands of Jolie this becomes more than your average “drugs are evil” film into a study of a woman-child who was looking for love and acceptance in the tough world of modeling.