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Lives of the Musicians:
Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought)



. "A Slipping down Life"

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 both.

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 line now.

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
I saw the movie and I agree with the review

I agree that Guy Pearce was fabulous- his singing was delectable. Each viewing has provided me with more enjoyment. And I went out and bought the Soundtrack for the movie.

                                                   ~~ Marycat
Insightful
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site Rating: 10

had me mezmorided for days-i fell in love w/ charaters true to life personas.

                                                   ~~ hart
Well written
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 8
                                                   ~~ Wanda B.
Perceptive
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

This is a character driven movie and the reviewer focuses his review on that aspect of the movie -- he also provides an uncomplicated description of a complicated relationship that is the heart of this movie. If I hadn't seen it, I would have wanted to especially as a fan of both Ms. Tyler and Mr. Pearce. They work magic together in a lovely love story where the unlikely and the unusual become the unique. Besides, he's right about "Elizabeth Jade".

                                                   ~~ joanne j B.



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