A Slipping-Down Life Movie Review
Evie Decker (Lili Taylor) lives with her sedentary and semi-senile father (Tom Bower) in a modest house on an uneventful street (shot around Austin, Texas) and works in a demeaning job at a rundown amusement park. Her moment of magic comes when, on a radio interview, the voice of struggling musician Drumstrings Casey (the cheeky faced Guy Pearce) says things that the interviewer has no possibility of relating to but with which Evie is in perfect harmony. He has plucked the right chord on her heartstrings and she wastes no time getting down to see him perform at the roadhouse with her closest friend, Violet (Sara Rue).
Casey has a strong, wily voice, songs that imply protest, and a delivery that is the country rebel at work. He pretty much disregards his audience's need for a continuous beat, shifting his rhythms and lapsing into spoken message as his mood moves him. The intense emotion he brings into his songs as well as his lean, macho rawness is a gripping experience for Evie, who is thunderstruck. Casey, of course, doesn't know Evie from E-flat.
Finding new energy in having an object of fascination, she thinks of little else but her struggling artist, and soon her boss is threatening to fire her because of lack of concentration on her work. She follows Casey to his daytime job only to discover that he's got a girlfriend, but jealousy won't keep her from attending his shows.
Led by her obsession, she decides it needs to go to a higher level. She stands at a restroom mirror and cuts his name on her forehead with a piece of glass. "Casey." Backwards. Drenched in blood, she shocks everyone and is whisked off to the hospital. Stitches are applied and she's soon the town's most infamous citizen. Capitalizing on the sudden, if bizarre, interest, Casey's manager-drummer, David Elliot (John Hawkes) arranges a bedside newspaper interview with a visit by Casey himself.
To his credit, he's sensitive to her, almost tender. Best of all, she's on the brooding musician's radar screen now -- her drastic act has had its intended effect. Her complete faith in the potentials of Casey's unique talent and her straightforward sincerity increases her effect on him, putting aside a tendency toward extremes of behavior. And when the media attention fades, she volunteers to display her forehead art at Casey's shows to bring him the benefit of whatever attention she still draws from her remaining notoriety. Eventually, the public attraction wears off but the personal one doesn't.
While Lili Taylor is an actress with a considerable body of work (Casa de los Babys, High Fidelity, rarely does she get to carry a picture. When it does happen, it's going to be in a character piece for which her dimensions of vulnerability and inner strength play a part in giving life to the aspects of a role. In this case, she almost makes sensible the desperate action of repressed devotion, but it's a stretch, and not quite enough to overcome a script that fails to clarify whether we're dealing with dementia, disability, or lonely desperation. Taylor maintains a level of sympathy for her troubled character despite writer-director Toni Kalem's unsparkling dramatic context.
Pearce continues to show up sparingly in low budget projects that call for a shot of charisma to boost the ordinary. Here he puts his singing talent and finely tuned moodiness to work to evoke a portrait of a self-absorbed artist forced by love to relate to someone. He makes the portrayal fit like a broken-in glove and, together, the co-stars mine the situation for nuggets of wry humor.
A Slipping-Down Life was made in 1999 and only now has it received theatrical distribution, confirming how unmomentous it's been to distributors. If you don't want to wait for this crazy concept of courtship to hit the video bins, get to the theatre while you have a chance. At the least, you'll get to see how Pearce rocks on Robyn Hitchcock's nicely jumping folk-style song "Elizabeth Jade," for me the highlight of the gig.
A slipping down skirt.
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