Angelina Jolie’s Best Movie Is Streaming Right Now

Before starring in Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie broke out to audiences by playing one of the most beautiful and troubled women in the world.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Angelina Jolie

For much of her career, Angeline Jolie’s acting ability has played second fiddle to her beauty. Even in Hollywood, a place full of very beautiful people doing their constant best to be the most beautiful in the room, her sheer physical charisma can be overwhelming. It is thus fitting that her very best movie has her playing one of the other most legendarily beautiful people in the world, supermodel Gia Carangi. The 1998 film Gia (originally produced as a television movie) holds a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it Angelina Jolie’s single highest-rated movie as an actress. It is also currently streaming on HBO Max, where you can see Jolie embody the famously troubled, short-lived model to a disturbing degree. 

Angelina Jolie

Prior to starring in Gia, Angelina Jolie was known as an up-and-coming actress in Hollywood (and as Jon Voight’s daughter) but had not had a real star performance. She had starred in a number of music videos, including as a teenage runaway in Meat Loaf’s “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through.” Though the image of Angelina Jolie on the red carpet, glamorous and high-cheek-boned, has been cemented in popular consciousness, it is remarkable how many of her early roles cast her as a troubled, Goth-tinged youth rebel. Apparently, that is more like the real-life Angelina Jolie of the time period than not, and she has said that many of her early auditions ended in rejection for being “too dark.” In Gia, she found the perfect role that could combine her emerging glamour and her inherent edginess. 

Gia Carangi was one of the first 1990s models to emerge as a celebrity in her own right, often being described as the “first supermodel.” Cindy Crawford, one of the most acclaimed models of her time period, was reportedly called “Baby Gia” at the beginning of her career, if that is any indication of Carangi’s status within the fashion world. She had an archetypally classic rise and fall career, meteoric in her rise to the covers of Cosmopolitan and Vogue and participating in campaigns for the biggest fashion houses in the world like Armani, Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent. Tragically, she became addicted to heroin and cocaine, eventually contracting AIDS. She died in 1986, with her funeral largely unattended by her industry peers. 

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie embodies Carangi on screen to an almost uncomfortable degree. The movie was directed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Cristofer and was co-written by the acclaimed novelist Jay McInerney, but follows a surprisingly standard biopic structure. Gia begins with Carangi as a child (played by Mila Kunis, whose youth resemblance to Angelina Jolie is shocking) witnessing the chaotic and abusive atmosphere of her childhood. It is clearly implied that she received her wild streak at least in part due to her mother (Academy Award-winner Mercedes Ruehl) and her passion for gender-bending and idiosyncratic style from the music of David Bowie. The second most interesting aspect of the story from a filmmaking perspective is the pauses Gia takes to cut to talking heads of famous fashion industry figures like photographer ​​​​Francesco Scavullo commenting on Carangi in the past tense in a documentary-like fashion. But these are actors, not the real deal, giving the whole thing a slightly surreal tinge. 

The single most interesting aspect of Gia (aside from Angelina Jolie’s performance) is the use of the real-life Carangi’s journals and poetry to narrate and comment on her own story. Much of her writing used fairy-tale imagery to describe a girl being slowly dissembled by the world for her beauty. While that may be very on the nose, particularly as we see Angelina Jolie succumb to addiction, it is not inaccurate. Jolie’s own performance is stunning in its ferocity. She gives the role a real sense of danger and tragedy, particularly in her tumultuous relationship with makeup artist Linda (played by Elizabeth Mitchell and based on the real-life Sandy Linter). From scene to scene, Angelina Jolie plays Gia as borderline feral to overwhelming vivid and alive to utterly hollowed-out and barely clinging to life. It is the definition of a tour-de-force performance.

Gia became Angelina Jolie’s breakthrough film and her calling card for many years. She would soon be starring in major Hollywood productions like Pushing Tin and Girl, Interrupted (a movie in which performance borrows a great deal from Gia). Eventually, Tomb Raider would come calling to be her defining role during the height of her stardom before she transitioned to philanthropic work, directing, and producing. But Gia is a movie that truly shows a star emerging, both in Angelina Jolie and Gia Carangi herself.