Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Southern discomfort

Freshman cinematic effort falters, yet moves

Posted By on Wed, Jun 16, 2004 at 12:00 AM

You might want to get up and walk out of this film, but don’t. You might scoff out loud at the over-the-top stereotypes and clichés of a quiet Southern town and the angst-ridden artists who are stuck there with their odd and obnoxious families and the black maid with a bad leg who is wise and sweet and funny as she swats your butt to get you up off the couch. You might be baffled to witness Los Angeles-type clubs and fashion statements in the Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, setting (a real place — I’ve been there and, believe me, there are no rockin’ tough clubs in Fuquay). You might gag when the tortured singer-songwriter character does his best Jim Morrison, miming the icon’s sexy, poetic, dark, spoken-word singing style to a laughable level of sincerity. There are lines in this film that will leave you wondering, “Did they really just say that?” Like when the Morrisonesque character mutters, "You don’t live in Fuquay, you die here." or, “We all got our own way of fighting off the devil; I write, sing and play guitar,” or later when his admirer says of his rants, “It's not just the words — it's like there's something underneath them.”

But as A Slipping Down Life unfolds, it deepens, despite its insatiable quest for camp status, and its characters suck you into their tortured but endearing lives. Tears rolled down my face by the end of this film. Feeling ridiculous in my cathartic moment, I couldn’t help but remark at how in the world a film that at times is so bad could hit such peaks of sincerity.

Maybe the schizophrenic nature of the film can be chalked up to the fact that it’s a freshman effort by writer/director Toni Kalem, who plays Angie Bonpensiero on “The Sopranos.” Kalem’s script is based on a novel by Anne Tyler.

The filming is a thing of beauty — producing scenes of slick modernist art, turning doors into geometrical scene dividers, using color to create a painterly effect.

Slipping Down stars Lili Taylor, who you can always count on to play the funky, offbeat character with a little heart and soul — in this case a neurotic loner named Evie Decker who lives with her dad and their maid and whose life is filled up with radio-listenin.’ Her flower blooms when she hears the crooning of small-time solo rocker Drumstrings Casey (the Morrison wannabe) who seems to speak directly to her. To prove her adoration to Drumstrings and to prove to the world that she can and will take action in her life, she carves his name with glass on her forehead.

Thus publicly mutilated, Evie garners Drumstrings’ attention and their strange obsessive romance begins. Her scar, of course, is an active symbol, like everything else in this movie. There are times when the eerie overt Gothic-ness threatens to turn badly dark, but this is a love story after all, and, despite its missteps, there is a certain charm and benefit to watching it through to the end.


Showing exclusively at the Birmingham 8, 211 South Woodward Avenue, Birmingham. Call (248)644-3456.

Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail


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