A Slipping Down Life

on May 14, 2004 by Ray Greene
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"A Slipping Down Life" confirms what many art-house moviegoers of the '90s have suspected for some time now: that Lili Taylor is perhaps the best American actress of her generation. It isn't that Taylor's role as a young woman obsessed with a barroom musician makes extreme demands of her; compared to playing schizoid lesbian assassin Valerie Solanis in "I Shot Andy Warhol," this latest role must have been a walk in the park. But the true measure of a great actress is whether or not she can make the incredible utterly believable, and in "A Slipping Down Life," that's exactly what Taylor does.

Most of the movie is a gentle rural character study, with Taylor's Evie Decker mooning over country musician Drumstring Casey (Guy Pearce) until she gradually finds a way to draw him into her life. The method Evie uses to get Casey's attention--she carves his name in her forehead in inverse lettering using a piece of broken glass--must have seemed very metaphoric in the Anne Tyler novel on which "A Slipping Down Life" is based. Onscreen, where we have to see all that blood and all those stitches, it plays as borderline psychotic--an act that might have collapsed what is otherwise a lyrical souffle of a movie if the girl in question had been played by an actress without Taylor's very sure hand.

Instead, we buy into Evie's act of not-so-quiet desperation because Taylor so fully does; seeing the world through Evie's slightly askew eyes, we even recognize that self-mutilation was for her a liberating and fulfilling act. Having suspended disbelief for the storyline's most awkward moment, the rest of the film is allowed to proceed, unmolested and intact.

"A Slipping Down Life" offers simple and well-crafted pleasures, which one complex and luminous performance elevates to a level approaching art. Director Toni Kalem deserves plaudits for a strong directorial debut, but ultimately, this is a movie whose finest attributes are Taylor-made. Starring Lili Taylor and Guy Pearce. Written and directed by Toni Kalem. Produced by Richard Raddon. Drama. A Lions Gate release. Rated R for language including sexual references. Running time: 105 min

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