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    A Slipping Down Life

    They're with the band

    An extreme groupie and a reluctant rock star explore life and obsession in "A Slipping Down Life," a well conceived and finely acted character drama that sometimes loses the big picture in its pat vignettes.


    He's an aspiring singer-songwriter prone to pseudo-cerebral mutterings during shows. She's a timid young woman stuck with a second-rate job at an amusement park and a monotonous home life with her widowed father. In the quirky but emotionally potent world of novelist Anne Tyler they're a stimulating couple.

    Written and directed by: Toni Kalem.
    Adapted from a novel by: Anne Tyler.
    Cast: Lili Taylor, Guy Pearce, Sara Rue, Bruno Kirby, Irma P. Hall, Tom Bower, Shawnee Smith, Veronica Cartwright.
    Cinematography: Michael Barrow.
    Edited by: Hughes Winborne.

    Related links: Official site
    In "A Slipping Down Life," first-time writer-director Toni Kalem and stars Lili Taylor and Guy Pearce nicely depict the heartfelt and humorous nuances of Evie Decker and Drumstrings Casey (never mind that drums don't have strings and that he plays the guitar). This 1999 film adaptation, which has been kept on the shelf by legal battles, shows how they meet and develop an inextricable bond. But it loses direction about halfway through, its narrative becoming shapeless and episodic.

    Tyler has a terrific ability to memorably spin a seemingly ordinary premise, and Kalem, an actress best know for playing Big Pussy's wife on "The Sopranos," picks up on her characters' quirkiness as well as their pain. Here the tale of an obsessed fan and the object of her affection takes on disturbing and preposterous proportions. Amid the more voluptuous groupies, plain Evie, who was mesmerized by Drum the instant she heard his voice on the radio, longs for a way to get his attention. During one of his shows something impels her to pick up a piece of glass and cut the name "CASEY" into her forehead. She later proclaims, "I believe this might be the best thing I've ever done."

    A Slipping Down Life  
    Although Evie gets Drum's attention — before you can say publicity stunt, his manager sends him to her hospital room for a photo op with the local paper — her real breakthrough is her decision to act instead of letting life happen to her. Soon Drum's manager has her situated in the audience at all his shows, and a mutual dependency develops.

    The initial coming together of these reticent but passionate characters, who are struggling to break out of their mundane lives, is subtly and richly evoked. Kalem and director of photography Michael Barrow visually summon forth the emotional complexity of two characters with deep longings that they don't have the words to express.

    Both Taylor and Pearce convey a lot with understated performances. Taylor seems too mannered at times, but Pearce, as he did in "L.A. Confidential" and "Memento" (which was actually shot after this film), masterfully loses himself in another idiosyncratic character, in both his scenes with Taylor and his performances of Drum's songs. (Pearce did all his own singing.) Sara Rue, now the star of TV's "Less Than Perfect," makes the often thankless best-friend-of-the heroine role sparkle with humor and compassion, and Shawnee Smith has a nice comic turn as a rival for Drum's affections.

    But the film swerves out of control in the middle, with scenes that play like vignettes from a novel (or episodes of an unusual cable TV series): Evie's and Drum's families meet, Evie concocts a convoluted scheme to get Drum playing music again. What sustains it are its wry humor and rich characters. Just when you feel it slipping away, they lure you back in.

    MAY 14, 2004

    Reader comments on A Slipping Down Life:

  • [no subject]   from , Nov 25, 2004
  • A Slipping Down Life   from JW House, Apr 29, 2005
  • Excellent   from Megan, Mar 20, 2006
  • Slipping Down Life   from Julia, Mar 21, 2007

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