In performances that "Late Show With David Letterman" producers surely will dig up as embarrassing clip fodder years from now, Guy Pearce and Lili Taylor star as small town oddballs in writer/director Toni Kalem's slight and irritating "A Slipping Down Life," based on the Anne Tyler novel of the same name.
Evie immediately becomes infatuated with Drumstrings--his powerful voice, his disdain for authority, his music that sounds like nothing she's ever heard before (and nothing you'll want to hear again)--and soon that infatuation moves her to pick up a jagged piece of glass and carve his name into her forehead: CASEY, or, as it appears when she's not in front of a mirror, YESAC.
We are supposed to believe that this tremendous act of self-mutilation is the first step in Evie's positive transformation from mousy wallflower to confident rocker chick, but after swallowing hard at the notion of such a bloody act, I laughed.
Drumstrings (Drum, for short) starts bringing Evie along to his gigs, using her forehead as PR. This unfortunately means we too have to attend Drum's gigs and listen to his laughable music and pathetic poetry. I guess it's all intended to be very Jim Morrison-like, but Pearce's long-haired, dark-souled rocker comes off more like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch of a Jim Morrison poseur. It's hard to watch.
Taylor, who has a track record of remarkable performances, from her TV turn in "Six Feet Under" to her stunning lead role in "I Shot Andy Warhol," is a mess in this movie--and you have to wonder if it's because she too never really believed in her character. From the beginning, when an introverted Evie dresses in perfectly retro second-hand clothes and drives a jalopy any hipster would be proud to own, it's hard to swallow that anyone so entrenched in such deliberate style could be so completely cut off from the world around her. Like the rich celebrity who, with a good deal of hair mousse and perfectly ripped jeans, perpetrates like a slacker, Evie's precious image is contrived.
So with caricatures instead of characters at the helm of Kalem's film, Evie's and Drum's transformations and their ultimate love affair feel artificial--fixed by a writer who has the look and the ending, instead of the truth, at the front of her mind.
"A Slipping Down Life"
Directed and written by Toni Kalem; based on a novel by Anne Tyler; photographed by Michael Barrow; edited by Hughes Winborne; production designed by Russ Smith; produced by Richard Raddon. A Lions Gate Films release; opens Friday, May 28. Running time: 1:51. MPAA rating: R (language including sexual references).
Evie Decker - Lili Taylor
Drumstrings Casey - Guy Pearce
Mr. Decker - Tom Bower
Clotelia - Irma P. Hall
Violet - Sara Rue