18 May 2004 | noralee
Listening to the Radio Can Change Your Life
"A Slipping Down Life" is better at showing the power of radio and music than explaining the characters inspired by it.
Lili Taylor's "Evie Decker" is living in a house filled with the sounds of radio and not much else in her life, as we see in somewhat mocking scenes that duplicate from many movies about small town Southern life from "Last Picture Show" to "Fried Green Tomatoes," etc. Her dad spends his time exploring short wave frequencies ("There's too much damn Spanish in the world!") and she's hooked on the romantic dedications and atmosphere created by WLUV.
So it's His Voice that gets to her first, as she hears an interview with a local singer/songwriter trying to establish himself as "Drumstrings Casey" and she's inspired to actually go out to see him at a local club.
Guy Pearce perfectly captures the type; while he's singing --quite well-- songs actually written by Canadian Ron Sexsmith, he floored me that his body language of being both sexy and laid-back virtually duplicated rootsy singer/songwriter Chris Whitley from the first time I saw him perform back in '91 for a similarly small audience. So I can certainly relate to "Evie"'s emotionally charged response to him -- but her actions are just plain odd, as she changes from passive guilelessness to exhibitionist stalker.
Debut writer/director Toni Kalem (a Jersey girl who is also "Angie Bonpensiero" on "The Sopranos" and can't resist sticking in Bruce Springsteen references here and there) confusingly shifts gears that I don't know if come from the original novel by Anne Tyler as I haven't read it yet. Both characters start getting more sympathetic and complex as they get more co-dependent and much more than just musician and fan, and more intriguing than Keith Carradine with his various groupies in "Nashville."
Though some pithy truths do come out, their artistic and emotional viewpoints are inconsistent as they try to find themselves, together and apart, with only hints of psychological explanations, such as "Casey"'s relationship with his mother, a former singer herself, and his hearing local bluesmen. But in maturing you do have to take a few steps back in order to go forward. The conclusion satisfyingly comes together around music and the radio, but is awkward plot-wise.
John Hawkes of "Deadwood" is also charming as the band drummer and promotion-seeking manager.
Nice range of singer/songwriter music on the soundtrack, but it doesn't reflect the Southern milieu that is so carefully visually established.