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IN SHORT: Dynamite. [Rated [R], 90 minutes]
It's been a generation since Cranky worked in the music biz -- I know it's a generation because one of the principal characters in Allison Anders' first rate flick Sugar Town refers to Stevie Nicks as "a cool old guy." Outside of the age gap, nothing much has changed in the world of rock and roll. Naked ambition, sheer ego, self deception, junkies, plane crashes and all natural living come together in perfectly matched multiple stories that fill this flick. It is the highest compliment I can pay to co-writer/directors Anders and Kurt Voss that they not only nail the scene and the inhabitants thereof, they at no time let their innate knowledge of the biz get in the way of telling a good story.
No, I take that back. Stories. Easily a half dozen of 'em, all stocked with well defined characters and a whole passel of surprises. It's the kind of work that Robert Altman does well and, considering my mixed feelings about Anders' Grace of My Heart, a major improvement and a delightful slice of life tale of folk both rising and falling in the Hollywood entertainment industries.
We start with Liz (Ally Sheedy) a thirtysomething film production designer whose biological clock is ticking so loudly that it's making her neurotic and scaring away potential dates. Her best friend Eva (Rosanna Arquette) is an actress watching a career go up in flames -- once the sexy ingenue type, now she's being offered a role as Christina Ricci's mother. Her husband Clive (John Taylor, ex Duran Duran and Power Station) is a Brit rock star of the 80s who, with other also rans Nick and Jonesy (Michael Des Barres, ex Power Station and Martin Kemp, ex Spandau Ballet) is shopping a last chance demo deal with the aid of producer Burt (Larry Klein, a real life composer and Grammy Award winning producer) and still waiting to be paid session player Carl (John Doe of X).
Not to mention Carl's eight months pregnant wife Kate (Lucinda Jenney); the sexy Latina (Lumi Cavazos) whose tour he's playing on, and who wouldn't mind playing him; Jane, the rich widow (Beverly D'Angelo) who wants to nail the one rocker who won't sleep with any woman older than 21 and Clive's heretofore unknown ten year old son Nerve (Vincent Berry) who's dropped off at dad's doorstep when his groupie mom goes off to join an ashram.
Crossing paths with almost all of these characters is Gwen (Jade Gordon) the would be rock goddess who will lie, cheat, steal, swindle, manipulate, plagiarize -- you get the picture -- so that she can flaunt her inevitable fame in front of the boys who turned her down in High School and now repair Slurpee machines. Cranky dated a woman just like Gwen, way back when. She's now working for a superstar and I'm reliving old nightmares <g> 'cuz Gordon's work is spot on, as is everyone else in the cast. For those who are playing roles similar to their real lives, creating a separate character is a very difficult thing because you can't help being anything but self-conscious of the parallels. If the Anders/Voss script hadn't provided detailed backgrounds for all of 'em, this project could have fallen flat as a barely covered and badly told retelling of real events, which was my feeling about Grace of My Heart.
I have no such reservations about Sugar Town.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Sugar Town, he would have paid...
Anders and Voss wrote the script in two weeks, finished the production in six months and boasted of the fact at Sundance. As have a lot of other boasts that have come out of that festival, that almost red flagged Sugar Town as "sure to suck." It doesn't suck. Mightily.
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