Singles v. Georgia: The Seattle Music Movie Showdown

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Tuesday night, John Doe will play the Tractor Tavern with Kathleen Edwards. But last night, I was reminded that Doe has managed a fairly prolific second career as a screen actor. This reminder came during a home screening of the 1995 film Georgia, which featured Doe in a fairly meaty supporting role as Jennifer Jason Leigh's off-and-on bandmate (local rockers Ken Stringfellow and Marc Olsen have cameos in the film, which featured several Seattle locations, including the Buckaroo Tavern). Doe delivers an appropriately reserved, adroit performance in a movie filled with reserved, adroit performances, the most adroit being those of Ted Levine and Mare Winningham, who garnered an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Leigh's older, exponentially more successful folk-singer sister.

Then there's Leigh, who dives headfirst into her role as a strung-out, no-talent drifter who plays bowling alley bars in her sister's long, selling-out-concert-halls shadow. Her performance amounts to one of the most grating in cinematic history, as she is as difficult to look at as she is to listen to. I'm not sure it's a bad performance, per se, but it all but drowns out the rest of what could have been a spectacular little movie. Instead, the viewer is left feeling very little sympathy for Leigh's fucked-up character, and the film is merely good.

The same can't be said for Cameron Crowe's Singles, which predated Georgia's release by three years and shared its Emerald City location. Bridget Fonda and Kyra Sedgwick are so annoying as to be rendered virtually unwatchable; at least Leigh's character was supposed to be somewhat unwatchable. And while Crowe's wholehearted devotion to shooting at iconic Seattle locales and including iconic Seattle bands in the cast is commendable (as is the casting of Eric Stoltz as a mime), the dialogue is truly cringeworthy, and the inclusion of one of the worst songs ever written (by an otherwise great songwriter), Paul Westerberg's "Dyslexic Heart," on the soundtrack was an all-time misfire. Singles is useful only as a time-capsule look at a city that looks a lot different 16 years on. But while Georgia falls short by that standard, it easily outdistances Singles by every other measure.

 
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