Monday, August 20, 2007

A Slipping-Down Life

A Slipping-Down Life *A few minor spoilers.
You think you're invisible, but I see you. You break, you bend, you disappear, and everybody here stares. Maybe you should just go farther. ~Drumstrings Casey
There is a very short list of people in the film industry whose taste I trust without question. To see their name attached to any project, no matter how absurd it may seem, I will still swallow my misgivings and commit to seeing it because I trust that writer, director, or actor almost implicitly. This is the rarest show of admiration I display, that if Faye Dunaway announced she were going to make a live-action version of...Herself the Elf....I'd watch it because the woman just fails to disappoint me.

It is this small Council of Esteemed Artists to which Guy Pearce was long ago elected.
The moment I see his face or hear his name in attachment to any film project, I immediately salivate with interest- all lustful fantasies aside- his talent and discernment for quality stories and remarkable films is rivaled only by his own magnificent gifts displayed within them. This English born Australian actor captivates the screen. His ever slight build manages to emanate and completely encompass every millimeter of the screen, making even the longest silences fascinating. He is one of the rare actors that acts with more than just his face, and defines the often poorly tacked on compliment of having "presence." My most recent viewing of a little known film called "A Slipping-Down Life" is absolutely proof of this.

The true protagonist and Hero of the film, is actually a Heroine "Evie" portrayed magically by Lili Taylor. Taylor, whose own resume is spectacularly diverse and worth watching, depicts a sad, lonely woman who obsesses over a local musician w
hen his spoken word poetry and lyrics touch her. The musician, played by Guy Pearce, is Drumstrings Casey, a Jim Morrison-esque moody young man who has his own social oddities to work out. Naturally when Evie carves his name in her forehead with broken glass...the two fall in love in an under-expressed and not well articulated fashion. (No, that isn't it again.)

While other films would have their leads panting and grinding on one another like high-schoolers without a condom, writer-director Toni Kalem does a magnificent job of being restrained without lacking passion. As Lili Taylor's character falls on the side of silent and timid, Guy Pearce's portrayal of Drumstrings does more for the strong silent types. To a less observant viewer, his moody pout and penetrating gaze would seem as if Pearce is trying to will Taylor to take off her clothes, a more focused watcher would see the rise and fall of his chest increase as he becomes breathless so near to the icon of his affection. One may easily dismiss his lifted focus or closed eyes as a musician intent upon his music, but the slightest shift of his body language shows a level of self consciousness, a fear of rejection. My only disappointment is that toward the end of the film, you find that not enough time was devoted to allowing the audience to engage in Drumstrings' evolution as was given for Evie.

Understandably, Evie Decker is the main character - but I feel, in a way this is a fallacy created by the director. Having not read Anne Tyler's original novel, on which the film was based, I cannot be certain, and perhaps when I have I shall revise my next statement. I feel that the characters of Evie and Drumstrings are meant to evolve as a whole being. I felt that what you had in these two characters was the proper weighting on each side of every scale. Where he was bold, she was timid. Where he lusted, she was was patient. Where she was driven, he was fearful. Where she was committed, he needed guidance. I think that Drumstrings, not yet fully understanding this, tried to express his intuition in a line spoken early on when introduced to Evie in the hospital to see her scars and have his photo taken with her for publicity.
Its like meeting up with your own face somewhere, you know like in a dream?
Evie, of course, thinks that he means his name on her brow, and even Drumstrings seems convinced that it is this permanent scarring of her face that both draws and repels him. As he feels more fond of Evie, he pushes her away and declares:
You don't know what it is to play with those letters staring back at you!
It isn't the scarring that frightens him, it is his growing dependence upon Evie's presence and affection. He tells her she cannot come to his shows anymore, discussing her as if she were a mascot pet, and in retaliation she tells him that no one understands his "Speaking Out" but her, and that his music and lyrics were meaningless if she was not there to hear them. Prophetically...his next concert he is met with disapproval from the audience. they wish only for his music and reject, and mock his poetry. As a result the band is fired by the club. It is in this moment that Drumstrings understands that she is who he has been playing for, and goes to her, sleeping on the porch swing of her father's house when she tells him he cannot sleep upon the couch.

Frustratingly, Drumstrings mercurial shifts from strong silent and mysterious to pained, devoted and needful are not explained until long past when they should be. Or, more correctly, they are not properly explored once it is explained. The "Artist's mentality" as a blanketing cause only last so long before the character would seem trite and 2 dimensional, if not saved by Guy Pearce's meticulous performance, and his alluring vocals throughout the film. It is not until his parents are shown together at a celebratory dinner that a deeper understanding is allowed.

Drumstrings' father is well, and briefly, played by Marshall Bell. In one scene, Bell adeptly shows all one needs to see the life-long cycles of abuse within the family. An angry, alcoholic who shows a great level of resentment toward his wife for having once been of "importance" and toward his son for even attempting to be anything other than a miserable young man in a bad job and on route to being a miserable old man, like he is. Mrs. Casey, well characterized by Veronica Cartwright (also to see in the upcoming 'The Invasion'), is a beautiful woman who was once a singer of minor fame, who seemed to have willingly chosen her family over her career, but shows no lack of pride in her glory days as she touches that fame briefly once again through her immensely talented son.

In this one scene we are given a snapshot of a snow-globe life; that a boy, named Bertram Casey was inspired to sing about the spaces between the snow that settled before his life was over and over again shaken into emotional chaos. Through-out the film, Evie is quite different. Her mother passed away when she was born and her life with her father has always been calm; calm, steady and predictable. She needs to feel the snow shaken up around her.

The resolution, the finding of that balance between them is very powerful, but for me, far too unsatisfactorily brief. Perhaps it is the intent focus upon Evie and a sort of askance glimpse of Drumstrings' life that leaves me unsated. The trouble in defining this is that both Lil Taylor and Guy Pearce are wonderful in their portrayals and performances, and the story itself is beautifully subdued and whispers of the remarkable moments of unremarkable lives. Perhaps what nags at me is not what wasn't given, but rather what isn't you are left truly wanting to know these two beautiful people. We are left with hope for them, with a sense that everything will be fine, that they have found their balance and will have joy...but we want to be a part of it.

Or at least...I do.

But I promise, I won't cut anything into my forehead.