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A Slipping Down Life


A Slipping Down Life

Director: Toni Kalem
Runtime: 111 minutes
Cast: Lili Taylor, Guy Pearce, Irma P. Hall

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A Slipping Down Life is a relic from the distant days of 1999, buried for five years and now unearthed in a new millennium, where the film's quirky characters and elliptical rhythms seem quaintly irrelevant. Guy Pearce took on his role as an earnest singer-songwriter while still hot off L.A. Confidential, before making Memento or Rules Of Engagement. Lili Taylor played the part of Pearce's most loyal fan back while she was still the reigning indie-film queen, before detouring into theater and television. The two leads help create an atmosphere of quiet surety, but they can't elevate the film beyond its self-imposed smallness.

Based on an Anne Tyler novel, A Slipping Down Life considers the repercussions when North Carolina rock-star wannabe Pearce captivates dowdy, mousy Taylor, who, in a moment of mania, carves his name into her forehead with a shard of glass. The act draws the attention of the local media, which proves to be a boon to Pearce's career. Soon, he finds that he can't do his act—which includes long, jabbering monologues full of accusatory questions—without Taylor hanging around. So he marries her.

A Slipping Down Life isn't really about rock 'n' roll or the South, but it still suffers from its inability to depict Southern small-town life, or the college rock-club circuit, with any accuracy. The film is rife with white-trash minstrelsy, from Taylor's hot-dog-vendor job at a children's amusement park (which requires her to wear a bunny costume and endure her employer's commands to "let me see your buns") to the casual references to home fries and Jell-O, and the bottle of Jack Daniel's on the dinner table. There's also nothing truthful about the relationship between Pearce and Taylor, even though the local-rocker-and-fawning-proto-fan dynamic is fairly common.

Still, the actors appear sincere, and A Slipping Down Life works reasonably well whenever it focuses on Taylor's effort to define her forehead-carving as an act of self-empowerment. Pearce's name on Taylor's head reads backward to everyone but her, but she can only see it in a mirror, a detail that matters inasmuch as it makes the deed difficult to exploit. If writer-director Toni Kalem had focused less on making her location seem cuter, she might have found time to examine what Taylor's devotion really means. A good question she could've started with: When an artist means a great deal to someone, does that automatically make the feeling mutual?