Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Sugar Town

By Marjorie Baumgarten

NOVEMBER 1, 1999: 

D: Allison Anders and Kurt Voss; with Ally Sheedy, Rosanna Arquette, Larry Klein, Jade Gordon, John Taylor, Michael Des Barres, John Doe, Lucinda Jenney, Lumi Cavazos, Beverly D'Angelo, Martin Kemp, Vincent Berry. (R, 93 min.)

Cross some Robert Altman with a little bit of All About Eve and you end up with a brew that tastes something like Sugar Town. This collaboration by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss is their first since they teamed together 10 years ago for their UCLA student project Border Radio. The film focuses on a constellation of Los Angeles characters. Some of them are undiscovered wannabes; others are "once-weres" who find themselves on the cusp of middle age with their glory years behind them and an uncertain future in front of them. The script exudes a definite sense of familiarity with its subject matter; it's the peripheral players who really keep this company town spinning. Their lives are woven together in an Altmanesque fashion as their storylines are picked up and observed in a seemingly haphazard fashion. Their situations ring true, if their entire gestalt doesn't hang together as well as it does in such movies as The Player or Nashville. Sheedy plays a hyper-tense production designer who turns to New Age solutions as she hears her biological clock ticking ever more loudly. Her romantic fling with a successful record producer is sabotaged by her ambitious housekeeper Gwen (Gordon), whose All About Eve act is more ruthless than the original. Then there's Eva (Arquette), a former teen-scream idol who is now dismayed at being offered roles as Christina Ricci's mother. Eva is the wife of former Brit rock idol Clive (Taylor ­ a real-life former Duran Duran member), who is trying to get a new band going. One of his bandmates is Nick (Des Barres ­ former Power Station band member and real-life ex-spouse of famous groupie Pamela Des Barres), who puts aside his penchant for young girls and beds an older benefactress played by D'Angelo. In yet another storyline, studio musician and family man Carl (Doe) tries to scrape by on financial promises, resist compelling sexual temptations while on the road, and grapple with his problematic brother home from rehab. At times, Sugar Town is a directionless jumble with too many distractions and too little focus. Yet it is always interesting and sharply observed. The film may have the ultimate nutritional value of a sweet confection, but it still tastes good to the last bite.

3 Stars


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