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Following Iggy Pop, Sid Vicious, and that chick in The Decline of Western Civilization who gashed her hands in the hope of getting a gig, Evie Decker is the latest rock ’n’ roller to engage in self-mutilation and self-definition. Except that Evie, the protagonist of A Slipping-Down Life, is not exactly a rock ’n’ roller. And whatever Evie is, she’s hardly the latest, given that this condescending slice of American Gothic has been in the cooler since a 1999 Sundance Film Festival debut. Mysteriously, the saga of this poor white nobody (who else but Lili Taylor?) and would-be rock poet Drumstrings Casey (Guy Pearce) has now been plucked from limbo. Yet the film, adapted from an Anne Tyler novel by writer-director Toni Kalem, surely belongs in the same North Carolina Nowheresville inhabited by the broken-spirited Evie, who lives with her forlorn, widowed father (Tom Bower) and works in the world’s most dismal amusement park. She wants to “disappear,” she says, and one day the radio offers her a way to do so: by partaking of the surly aura of singer-guitarist Casey, a blues-rock bard with a thing for spoken-word digressions. (Some have compared Casey to Jim Morrison, but he’s more like that other Morrison, circa Into the Mystic, laced with a bit of childlike schizo-rocker Daniel Johnston. His material, sung by Pearce, is credited to Joe Henry, Ron Sexsmith, and Robyn Hitchcock.) Inspired by a sparsely attended club gig that doesn’t set anyone else on fire, Evie carves the name “Casey” into her forehead. The singer’s drummer/manager (John Hawkes) digs the publicity, and Casey himself goes from bemused to bewitched. Soon enough, muse and poet are married and dealing with mundane domestic disorders rather than Casey’s mad flights of self-expression—or his career. While Pearce retains a hint of his Aussie accent, Taylor sinks into Evie: It’s the lumpy-loser role she’s played a dozen times before, albeit usually on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. But just add a preternaturally wise African-American maid (The Ladykillers’ Irma P. Hall) as her foil and Taylor’s all set for the South. Anyone who’s already seen Household Saints need not go with her.

—Mark Jenkins