"You are way too qualified to be a rabbit," a friend tells Evie Decker in A Slipping-Down Life, Toni Kalem's funny-sad adaptation of an early Anne Tyler novel. As portrayed by Lili Taylor, Evie is a wet dishrag who needs wringing out. She lives with her dad, who's also a wet dishrag, and sells hot dogs in a bunny suit at Kiddie Acres, the poorest excuse for an amusement park ever put on screen. But Evie's life is about to change. Listening to her transistor radio one night, she hears the come-hither musings of Drumstrings Casey, a local singer who seems to have memorized every line Jim Morrison never got around to writing. Evie's in love.
But is she in love with Drumstrings or the idea of Drumstrings, the sound of his music or the way it makes her feel? A Slipping-Down Life is a little fuzzy on that question. But what we're supposed to realize, I think, is that Evie is turned on by Drumstrings, turned on like a light gets turned on. There's even a religious conversion of sorts. While Drumstrings is playing at a roadhouse one night, Evie goes into the bathroom and carves his name on her forehead with a piece of glass, except she gets it backwards, not accounting for the mirror. Only a crackpot saint would dream up, and screw up, her own stigmata.
Tyler's 1970 novel, her third, was among those she later confessed to wishing would quietly disappear, and she almost gets her wish here. The story, which Kalem adapted herself, seems inchoate, not quite there. And the characters all seem to exist in their own little orbits, revolving around one another without touching. Taylor does that thing she does, but Evie remains an enigma at the end, suggesting that Taylor never got a bead on her. Pearce comes off better, perhaps because we expect Lizard Kings to be enigmas. He's let his hair grow long, stringy and greasy, but when he launches into his stud-poet songs, it shines like a brand-new guitar left out in the rain.