Guy Pearce is a talented actor, so talented perhaps that he has the unfortunate habit of slipping into his roles so well that he disappears. It's difficult to piece together a mental picture of the man who played an Australian drag queen in "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," the tattooed amnesiac in "Memento," and a straight-laced cop in "L.A. Confidential."
Hopefully, Pearce has solved that image problem with his performance in "A Slipping Down Life." As Drumstrings Casey, Pearce is a dreamboat, a long-haired, earnest, rock-star poet. Toni Kalem's directorial debut, based on the novel by Anne Tyler, is a slow, easy going, likeable film, starring two appealing actors, Pearce (who moved me with his shirtless stature) and the always interesting Lili Taylor. Taylor plays Evie Decker, a depressed young woman, prone to fidgeting and wearing unfortunate, ill-fitting, patterned dresses. She works the refreshment stand at a local amusement park while clad in a heavy fun, rabbit suit.
Evie seems to have drifted through life, sad and without purpose, until she hears Drumstrings on the radio. She is so moved by the man, by his voice, and his music, and more than likely his shirtless stature, that she carves his name into her forehead. My heart broke for poor Evie, her face dripping with blood reminiscent of Sissy Spacek in "Carrie," dripping with pig's blood at the school prom. Suprisingly, self mutiliation works for her. Drumstrings Casey and Evie Decker are unlikely lovers, and their dance, moving together, coming apart, moving together again, is convincing and compelling.
Kalem's screenplay suffers from too much eccentricity. There is not a single character in "A Slipping Down Life" who is not an oddball: the overweight, outspoken best friend (Sara Rue), the band's other groupie who talks only about sex (Shawnee Smith), the black maid who is rarely without her vacuum (Irma Hall), the band manager (John Hawkes) who struggles to insert his hard contact lenses.
Nevertheless, the charm of the two leads holds the film together. When Drumstrings hesitantly leaned towards Evie for their first kiss, I leaned forward in my seat, egging him on.