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A Slipping-Down Life

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In Toni Kalem's offbeat romance adapted from Anne Tyler's novel, Evie, an aging small-town North Carolina waif, develops a bizarre fascination with Drumstrings Casey, a local rock 'n' roll singer -- a pretentious no-talent whom the film apparently takes at face value. Casey's gimmick is that he "talks" (i.e. intones high school notebook ponderings) before songs, and the story's conceit is that only Evie can "hear" (i.e. naively fall for) his soulful message. Lili Taylor portrays the bruised but quietly resilient Evie -- a role, draped in oversized vintage dresses, she has played many times before; Taylor is too good to keep tumbling for these parts she could sleepwalk through. The anorectic Guy Pearce is Casey, who remains enigmatic -- and ill-kempt -- throughout. It's tricky to tackle this sort of quirky Southern gothic romance -- Evie sells hot dogs wearing a bunny costume -- without it becoming a checklist of indie-film clichés. Unfortunately, Kalem, in her directorial debut, hits most of them -- from the retro furnishings, the over-acting balanced by under-acting, the slow pans through the grubby Americana of the town. So, there's metal fans blowing the smoke across a honky-tonk and Taylor's soulful, sad eyes, but the film remains uncompelling and emotionless. 2 cameras

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