Evie Decker is a shy and awkward young woman who lives with her widowed father in a West Texas town where she works at a rundown amusement park, dressing up every day in a ridiculous rabbit suit. There's no adventure or romance in Evie's life and, indeed, she seems immune to any kind of outside stimulus. Evie herself believes that if she were to disappear, 'no one would notice.'

Because Evie is the central character of this movie, you know something's going to happen to her, and something does. One night, lying alone in her bed, she hears a radio interview with a local musician, 'Drumstrings' Casey. Somehow, he seems to be speaking directly to her. Evie is smitten. That weekend, she persuades her friend Violet to go with her to a local roadhouse to catch Drum's show, and her fascination with the laconic, curiously inarticulate and enigmatic young man becomes an obsession.

A Slipping Down Life is based on a novel by Anne Tyler, the writer famous for creating contemporary characters whose exterior demeanors appear inert even as their inner lives are rich and roiling with emotional tumult. This makes Tyler's characters difficult to adapt to the screen, with its demands for visible action and perceptible dramatic conflict. Under Toni Kalem's searching direction, and as brought to life by Lili Taylor and Guy Pearce, Evie and Drum are not as uncompelling an odd couple as they might have been. Both performers have an arresting screen presence as well as considerable charm, and in this film both get to display previously undisclosed aspects of their formidable skills. Pearce, it turns out, is a fine guitarist and singer, and Taylor has a softer, sexier side of her personality than previously revealed.

Watching these two accomplished actors discover and develop some dramatic substance in their outwardly uninteresting and ordinary characters may be the only thing to keep viewers of this film alert, at least for a little while. Oh, there's also an appealing soundtrack, with a number of original songs (by Joe Henry, Ron Sexsmith, Vic Chestnut and Robyn Hitchcock), and a few odd events--such as when Evie first attracts Drum's attention by carving his name on her forehead. But the predictable plot lurches forward elliptically, and it's difficult to sustain interest in it, even when Evie and Drum get married and face the inevitable conclusion that marriage hasn't done much to change their listless lives.

In addition to its two fine leads, A Slipping Down Life also claims an impressive supporting cast, including Tom Bower as Evie's father, John Hawkes as Drum's manager and fellow performer, and Sara Rue as Violet, Evie's only friend. Rue, incidentally, is considerably heavier in this role than she has appeared in the last year or so as the star of the ABC sitcom 'Less Than Perfect.' Which is the first clue that A Slipping Down Life may have been sitting on a shelf somewhere. Sure enough, this independently made film had its debut at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. Such a long delay in finding a distributor and setting a release date does not, as we all know, bode well.

-Shirley Sealy