In A Slipping-Down Life, adapted from Anne Tyler’s novel of the same name, Lili Taylor plays Evie Decker, a young woman who spends her days dressed as a rabbit, selling hot dogs at a run-down amusement park, and her evenings saying things like, “If I disappeared, no one would even notice.” It’s easy to see that Evie is depressed and lonely, and Taylor’s masterful performance hints at an underlying instability in her character—an instability that is revealed fully when she becomes so obsessed with a local musician that she cuts his name into her forehead with a piece of broken glass.
This naturally brings her to the attention of the musician in question, one Drumstrings Casey, played by Guy Pearce, his angular features de-sanitized with a head of long, greasy hair. Casey is a brooding singer/songwriter whose career has been hampered by his habit of “speaking out,” staring intensely into the middle distance and uttering cryptic, vaguely oracular pronouncements such as, “You think you’re invisible, but I can see you.” Drumstrings would have to be something pretty special to explain Evie’s maniacal devotion—ideally he’d have a Jeff Buckley-like mystique. And the filmmakers put a lot of energy into his musical persona, bringing in the brilliant Joe Henry as musical director and having Drumstrings perform songs written by Henry, Ron Sexsmith, and Vic Chesnutt, among others. Unfortunately, despite this impressive lineup of songwriting talent, Drumstrings comes across as an entirely unexceptional artist. Pearce is a competent but uninspired singer, and since he’s rarely shown performing more than a few lines from any given song, his character never develops a recognizable musical personality. But the heart of this movie isn’t the music, it’s the relationship between Evie and Drum, and that’s handled perfectly. Both actors are at their best, and watching these two lost souls find each other is tremendously moving.