In the kind of town people tend to think of leaving, a timid young woman
leading a monotonous life, suddenly springs to attention when she becomes
aware of a reticent local honkie-tonk singer with the kind of attitude that
rings her bell. Call it a shot of character adrenalin, because it moves her
to do something about her feelings that she never before thought of doing.
Evie Decker (Lili Taylor) lives with her sedentary and semi-senile father 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 craggy faced Guy Pearce) says things that the interviewer has no
understanding of but with which Evie is in perfect harmony. He has plucked
the right chord with her and causes her to attend his next gig 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 rythms and lapsing into spoken message
as the mood takes him. The intense emotion he brings into his songs as well
as his buff, macho rawness is a gripping experience for Evie, who is
thunderstruck. Casey, of course, doesn't know she exists.
Finding new energy in the fascination, she thinks of little else, and soon
her boss is threatening to fire her because of her lack of concentration on
her work. She follows Casey to his daytime place of work only to discover
that he's got a girlfriend. Not allowing her thoughts to go to a place
where that would be a problem, she attends every one of his shows.
But, then, she takes it to a higher level. Led by her obsession, she stands
at a restroom mirror and cuts his name on her forehead with a piece of glass.
Drenched in blood, she shocks the community and is whisked off to hospital
where she learns she has carved the name backwards. Stitches are applied and
she's soon the town's most infamous subject of interest. The newspaper
arranges an interview and a visit by Casey, himself.
To his credit, he's sensitive to her, almost tender. She's certainly on the
brooding musician's radar screen now, indicating that her outrageous act has
had its intended effect. Her complete faith in the potentials of his unique
talent and her straightforward sincerity have an even greater effect, which
puts aside any issues over extremes of behavior. And when the media
attention fades, she approaches Casey's manager and drum player to use her at
Casey's shows to bring him the benefit of whatever attention she still draws
from her sudden fame. This does bring in additional business and soon she
and Casey are relating like sybiotic colleagues and emotional partners.
Complications arise, but the realization of the mutuality of their needs as
well as the compatibility of their desires for his talent and eventual
breakout, leads to a marriage that, for a time, fulfills and energizes
While Lily 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, and carries the burden with consistency. She also
carries the emotional weight of the story, though director Toni Kalem's
unsparkling dramatic context puts a drag on it.
Guy Pearce is the epitome of the struggling movie star. After proving his
acting mettle in "L.A. Confidential" and the extraordinary "Memento," he continues to show
up sparingly in low budget projects that call for a level of charisma that
compensates for ordinariness in writing or comedy. 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 really relate to someone. This is
preceded by a flimsy Aussie comedy about a band of robbers, "The Hard
Word." While that was produced in 2002, his filmography doesn't show a
single entry for 2003, a bigger crime.
As for the prospects of this one, "A Slipping Down Life" was made in 1999.
Five years to get theatrical distribution does not portend wide appeal and
raises questions about quality but, at least, it isn't a direct-to-DVD
product. Don't wait for it to hit the bins. No fan of Taylor or Pearce
should put off seeing it. If you like offbeat romance and crazy courtships,
see it. And if you want to see how good a singer Pearce actually is, get in
Contributors to an album of songs that might have come from an authentic
rocker in a roadhouse setting include Joe Henry, Ron Sexsmith, Vic Chestnut
and Robyn Hitchcock who wrote my favorite piece, the nicely jumping
folk-style "Elizabeth Jade." The actual singing is by multi-talent Pearce
who fits into this portrayal like a broken-in glove.
~~ Jules Brenner