“Gia” is a 1998 biographical HBO original film following the life of America’s first supermodel Gia Marie Carangi. Playwright Michael Cristofer, turned filmmaker takes an unflattering look at the fashion industry in this sizzling yet heart wrenching true story.
Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) is a 17-year-old Philadelphia native with smouldering good looks and a ‘don’t give a fuck attitude’. After arriving in New York Gia’s wary, rebellious edge and fiery magnetism help captivate high-powered modelling agent Wilhelmina Cooper, offering her a modelling contract on the spot. Gia immediately makes an impression on the fashion industry with her fierce dark looks and personality alike, setting her head and shoulders above her blonde,’ butter wouldn’t melt’ peers in the industry’s power pyramid. Suddenly, Gia is thrust into a world of drugs, sex and high status. The whole world is at her fingertips but something remains unfulfilled.
Behind the bravado is pain and loneliness. Gia yearns for her mother, who deserted the family when she was a child. As she tries to rebuild their relationship, having her mother stay with her in her New York apartment, Gia experiences her mother repeatedly leave to return to her new family that replaced and ruined theirs. She yearns for a relationship with Linda, a make-up artist she meets on a shoot. But Linda is conflicted by her bisexuality, playing with Gia’s emotions and genuine love for her, driving Gia away.
This constant sense of abandonment, “People keep on going away from me and that hurts” fuels the models craving to find solace in something else; drugs. Soon Gia becomes dependant on cocaine putting her career, personal relationships and beauty that brought her this far, all under jeopardy.
The film delves deeply into Gia’s psyche and emotional state, making it somewhat irresistible to feel sorry for her and understand why Gia began taking drugs to begin with. As an audience we begin to understand that drug addicts don’t always follow this stereotypical stigma of useless bums, wasting their lives, putting a strain on society. Gia, despite her success as a fashion model, was just a young beautiful girl lost in a world where drugs and false love come so easily, that she couldn’t help but get entangled. She was screaming out for love and affection but no one was there.
A particular scene I found very difficult in the movie, is where Gia is on a fashion shoot, in Germany, stoned beyond mobility that the assistants have to position her into their desired pose and then begin shooting. All they wanted was the perfect shot and because Gia was so desirable they didn’t care what state she was in. Despite everyone in the fashion industry knowing Gia was on drugs no one did anything. In the film, you can’t help but feel Gia is used purely for her beauty and its heart wrenching to think that this young girl just wanted someone to care and drugs took that stance.
Failed attempts at reconciliation with both Linda and her mother Kathleen drive Gia further over the edge from cocaine to heroin. Scenes of close up shots of Gia shooting heroin are difficult to watch but show a true grittiness and the reality of drugs in the 80’s. Her emaciated body and sunken eyes become the catalyst for the “heroin chic” look and again photographers and assistants ignore her problems (even hiding track marks on her arms) and use them to create better photographs. Eventually Gia, goes cold turkey and kicks her consuming habit, but her efforts are undeserved.
We discover that an infected needle has resulted in Gia contracting the AIDS virus, and becomes one of the first people in the U.S.A to have contracted AIDS. Gia soon dies from the virus and the film ends from a quote taken from Gia’s diary, “Life and death, energy and peace. If I stop today it was still worth it. Even the terrible mistakes that I made and would have unmade if I could. The pains that have burned me and scarred my soul, it was worth it, for having been allowed to walk where I’ve walked, which was to hell on earth, heaven on earth, back again, into, under, far in between, through it, in it, and above.”
I believe this small-screen production does justice to the cautionary tale of Gia Carangi’s fast rise and devastating fall. However, the biopic has been discredited for not presenting the real Gia, claiming to have glamorized and exaggerated certain aspects of Gia’s personality and life for artistic value. Nonetheless, from research I’ve conducted I believe the production is closing to both truth and perfection. Cristofer, was careful to underscore the character’s perennially depressed state, and highlights the fact that her drug use stemmed essentially from a neediness that engulfed everyone with whom she interacted with a beauty so profound it seemed to destroy everything she touched. Pieces of the film are shot like a documentary, as the actors are interviewed about Gia’s life and the fashion industry, creating authenticity. What I also appreciate is that you can find the actual interviews of the people mentioned in film online, which is why I believe the film is a true portrayal of Gia.
I would definitely recommend anyone to watch this film, it’s sizzling, dark and real. And Jolie gives an excellent thoroughly uninhibited and highly effective portrait of a woman living from thrill to thrill. And you get to see her boobs. Enough said.