screenplay by Toni Kalem, based on the novel by Anne Tyler
directed by Toni Kalem
by Walter Chaw With an excellent first hour and a less impressive, almost sprawling second, Toni Kalem's hyphenate debut A Slipping-Down Life finds an excellent cast in the employ of a Southern Gothic about a young woman "awakened" by the "shout outs" of a small-time backwater singer/songwriter. With tunes by Peter Himmelman and nice performances from Guy Pearce and Lili Taylor (too pretty to play the overweight teen protagonist of the Anne Tyler novel on which the film is based), what starts out as unusual and compelling loses its way at some point to become a more conventional comedy of manners, Grant Wood-style. Though it reminds of May in a way for Taylor's self-mutilation and studied romantic intensity, Kalem strives more for the grimly uplifting than the grimly ironic. Still, there's something smart going on in the picture's visual design and return to doubling motifs, in its portrayal of the difficulties of communication, and Taylor's trademark obsession with young women on journeys of discovery and love. Add a genuinely affecting moment between Taylor and veteran Tom Bower, not to mention a few pointed unicorn images given poignancy when Taylor's character carves a name on her forehead, and A Slipping-Down Life finds itself, if not entirely successful, at least ambitious and, for a long while, even brave. Originally published: October 15, 2003.