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SUGAR TOWN (director/writer: Allison Anders and Kurt Voss; cinematographer: Kristian Bernier; editor: Chris Figler; music: Larry Klein/Joe Lervold; cast: Rosanna Arquette (Eva), Beverly D’Angelo (Jane), Michael Des Barres (Nick), John Doe (Carl), Lucinda Jenney (Kate), Martin Kemp (Jonesy), Ally Sheedy (Liz), Larry Klein (Burt King), Jade Gordon (Gwen), John Taylor (Clive), Richmond Arquette (Rick), Lumi Cavazos (Rosio Sanchez), Vincent Berry (Nerve), Paige Dylan (Nerve’s Mom); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Daniel Hassid; USA Films/October Films; 1999)
“The filmmakers had their finger on the pulse of their characters, it’s only too bad they couldn’t have made the unwieldy narrative tighter.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The subject of writer-director Allison Anders and Kurt Voss’ (“Border Radio”) keenly observed but ultimately slight sudser is the contemporary Los Angeles rock scene. It features some once famous aging rockers reaching middle-age, some fringe dwellers and some younger wannabes trying to break into the scene, and it tells about their relationships and career concerns. What gives this indie film prominence is the great casting of former Brit rock idols such as John Taylor from Duran Duran, from the Power Station rocker Michael Des Barres, and Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet. They play frustrated rockers that a record company refused to even listen to a single they made on a demo, as they are represented by their agent played by real-life producer Larry Klein. But there’s hope in the horizon, as wealthy Detroit widow Beverly D’Angelo might invest in the trio’s comeback.

The film consists of vignettes following the cast of characters doing their thing. Ally Sheedy plays an uptight New Age man-hungry movie production designer out on the single scene, who gets outfoxed by her backstabbing wannabe songstress housekeeper Jade Gordon when the employee slyly steals her hot producer date. Rosanna Arquette is Sheedy’s actress sister, once famous as a heroine in slasher flicks, who is married to rocker John Taylor. Rosanna complains that she’s been offered a role as Christina Ricci’s mother–which she views as a slap in her face that tells her she can only now have mature parts. She then complains that Taylor’s love child Nerve from twelve years ago is dumped on their doorsteps by the cult-following mother, who is off to India to save the world. Studio musician John Doe’s (in real-life he was former band member of X) wife (Lucinda Jenney) is expecting again and he needs the bread, so he leaves the farm to go on a rock tour with a hot Mexican singer (Lumi Cavazos) who wants to take advantage of the happily married man. Richmond Arquette, Rosanna’s real-life brother, plays the former junkie just released from rehab who is staying on his brother John Doe’s farm and his visit presents certain problems.

It’s a slice-of-life stylized drama that has its rich moments but bogs down with an unconvincing third-act that fails to bring things together in a sensible way. The film, written in less than a week and shot in only three weeks, was for the most part inspired in telling about these depressing but likeable characters in such a good natured and sympathetic way. There’s a subtle (and, I might add too subtle satire, as it was difficult to tell if the filmmakers were really making this a satire) goofing done by feminist filmmaker Anders on the airhead gals looking up to the males as all-knowing deities. The filmmakers had their finger on the pulse of their characters, it’s only too bad they couldn’t have made the unwieldy narrative tighter.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”