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With: Lili Taylor, Guy Pearce, Irma P. Hall, John Hawkes, Veronica Cartwright, Marshall Bell, Shawnee Smith, Sara Rue, Bruno Kirby, Tom Bower, Jo Ann Farabee, Harv Morgan
Written by: Toni Kalem, based on a novel by Anne Tyler
Directed by: Toni Kalem
MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references
Running Time: 109
Date: 01/22/1999

A Slipping Down Life (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Drum Droll

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Toni Kalem's A Slipping Down Life has been sitting on the shelf for five years, since 1999, and it's not hard to see why. It suffers from a severe case of "indie-itis," with a bit of quirkiness and oddness thrown in. In other words, it deliberately tries to avoid mainstream storytelling by going off in unusual directions, but it does so without any kind of rhyme or reason.

Based on Anne Tyler's novel, A Slipping Down Life tells the story of Evie Decker (Lili Taylor), an introverted small-town girl who works as a giant bunny rabbit at the kiddie amusement park and listens to the all-request hour on the radio at night while alone in her room. She becomes fascinated with a Jim Morrison-like singer/songwriter, Drumstrings Casey (Guy Pearce) and goes to see him play live.

While the rest of the audience grows impatient with his impromptu on-stage poetic babblings, Evie feels she understands him and carves his name ("Casey") on her forehead -- backwards so that she can read it in the mirror. Because of her stunt, she gets to meet her idol and forms a strange relationship with him.

A Slipping Down Life awkwardly straddles realism and dream imagery, but neither works very well. Evie is so shy and quiet that she appears to be mentally ill, and her two best friends (Shawnee Smith and Sara Rue) are so incompatible you spend the film wondering why they would ever hang out.

Likewise, Drumstrings doesn't act or sound like any other musician; how could someone so infatuated with his own words call himself such a stupid stage name?

When Evie and Drumstrings eventually get married, we can see their entire painful relationship play out before us, as if in slow motion, complete with fighting, drinking and near-infidelities.

And while the film has such excellent imagery � Evie's rabbit suit, her forehead scar � to play with, it fails to do so in any but the most rudimentary manner. It tells the story but it isn't cinema.

Thankfully Taylor and Pearce are good enough actors that they can reasonably save most of their material, even if Taylor sinks too far into melancholy and Pearce too far into egotism. Of course, that should have been Kalem's job as director to reel them in. Kalem has been a writer and a performer on "The Sopranos" and has been in such films as Philip Kaufman's The Wanderers. Very little she might have learned from any of these jobs has rubbed off.

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