A Slipping Down Life

  • 2004
  • 1 HR 51 MIN
  • R

First shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999, actress-turned-director Toni Kalem's adaptation of Anne Tyler's 1969 novel about shriveling ambitions and stunted lives is a dreary mess of opaque characters doing peculiar things for inexplicable reasons. Timid Evie Decker (Lily Taylor), painfully introverted and old before her time, lives with her sad...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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First shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999, actress-turned-director Toni Kalem's adaptation of Anne Tyler's 1969 novel about shriveling ambitions and stunted lives is a dreary mess of opaque characters doing peculiar things for inexplicable reasons. Timid Evie Decker (Lily Taylor), painfully introverted and old before her time, lives with her sad widowed father (Tom Bower) in a dying small town located somewhere between today's rural rustbelt and the early 1960s, when Tyler's novel is set. Evie's only friend, plump but vivacious Violet (Sara Rue), works at the local beauty parlor while Evie squanders her days selling hot dogs at the Kiddie Acres amusement park and her nights listening to music on the radio. And then, one fateful evening, the sleepy voice of local musician Bertram "Drumsticks" Casey (Guy Pearce) slithers out of the radio, so vividly articulating Evie's inchoate desire to escape her stifling existence that she can't ignore its siren call. Evie haunts Drum's shows at the Unicorn, a rough-and-tumble roadhouse, sitting at her table like a trembling ghost while trailer tramps writhe provocatively in front of the stage. Spellbound by Drum's voice, Evie succumbs to the first impulse of her sheltered life and carves his surname into her forehead; Drum visits Evie in the hospital and a local reporter's subsequent coverage links them in the public eye. Her perplexing act of self-mutilation creates a bond that keeps drab Evie and seductive Drum circling around the same small locales; eventually, apparently gripped by his own irresistible impulse, Drum proposes to Evie. Marriage focuses Evie, who blossoms quietly into an efficient homemaker as Drum lets his life slip into frustrated aimlessness. Tyler's story makes an awkward transition to film, starting with the coy decision to locate the story in some vague period that's neither now or then, in which vintage cars and portable headphones coexist. It's impossible to evoke the transgressive force of rock music once it's removed from its historical context, and problematic casting compounds the problem. The talented Taylor is too old to play a character whose childish obstinacy and unsophisticated understanding of the world were written for a teenager, and Evie's dogged conviction that Drum's music needs to be heard seems patently ridiculous in light of Drum's generic folk-rock stylings. Pearce can sing, but Drum's trademark "speaking out" — free-associative ramblings that recall Jim Morrison of the Doors at his most embarrassingly pretentious — falls far short of the hypnotic effect Tyler describes.

MIXED-ISH - In "mixed-ish," Rainbow Johnson recounts her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the '80s and the constant dilemmas they had to face over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves. Bow's parents Paul and Alicia decide to move from a hippie commune to the suburbs to better provide for their family. As her parents struggle with the challenges of their new life, Bow and her siblings navigate a mainstream school in which they're perceived as neither black nor white. This family's experiences illuminate the challenges of finding one's own identity when the rest of the world can't decide where you belong. (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
MYKAL-MICHELLE HARRIS, ARICA HIMMEL, ETHAN WILLIAM CHILDRESS

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