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[whitespace] Rosanna Arquette and John Taylor
Fighting Words: Eva (Rosanna Arquette) and Clive (John Taylor) argue over a surprise addition to their family.

Rock Candy

Allison Anders and Kurt Voss are sweet on aging rockers in 'Sugar Town'

By Don Hines

AS COMFORTABLE and ramshackle as the Topanga Canyon farm where journeyman guitarist Carl (X's John Doe) lives with his kids, pigs, chickens and very pregnant wife, Sugar Town follows a dozen musicians and filmmakers getting by on getting by in the Hollywood Hills. Their 15 minutes of fame are two decades gone. Carl needs money to buy chicken feed, so he hectors record producer Burt (Larry Klein, producer of Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole) for an as-yet-unpaid recording session. Burt's having little luck shopping around his '80s supergroup demo tape, Gravy Stain Girl. A middle-aged widow (sexily pragmatic Beverly D'Angelo) will finance the disc in exchange for boudoir service from the band's singer, Nick (reptilian Michael Des Barres of Power Station), but the graying Nick sleeps only with teenagers. The band's guitarist, Clive (Duran Duran's John Taylor), unconvincingly explains to his ex-scream queen wife, Eva (Rosanna Arquette), that the feral goth kid left on his doorstep probably isn't his. The moony mother leaves him there on her way to India. "He's disrupting the ashram," says mom. "My name's not Nirvana, it's Nerve," spits the none-too-happy kid.

Eva's shell-shocked after she's offered a film role as Christina Ricci's mom. She's not a child actor anymore, she's an ingenue, she explains to her husband: "Do the math, how old do they think I am?" Meanwhile, Eva councils Type AAA uptight set designer Liz (an ungrounded-as-a-live-wire Ally Sheedy) on her tragicomic love life--while Liz is undercut by her young new housekeeper/aspiring songwriter Gwen (the Liz Phair manqué Jade Gordon).

Like a utility shed grafted atop an old hippie's school bus, Sugar Town has too many stories and often shimmys all over the road. But co-directors Allison Anders and Kurt Voss know and love the lives of the characters. Many of the actors are friends of Anders' and Voss', themselves former lovers from 1980s UCLA film school. These friends offered their homes as sets and worked for deferred salaries during the film's three-week shoot. More affectionate than cutting (unlike the painfully sharp Hollywood satire The Player), Sugar Town gently teases its aging rockers.

Yet the screenwriters don't begrudge Gwen her single-minded drive to succeed as yet another pained, albeit nubile, confessional singer/songwriter. "Where are my two songs?" she demands of a junkie songwriter played by Redd Kross' Jeff McDonald. "I wanted, one about a girl in a mental hospital, and one about a rape." As the unwitting stooge for most of Gwen's All About Eve machinations, unadorned Ally Sheedy brings pathos to her role as the overworked and underlaid New Age career gal. Sheedy fearlessly appears without makeup or flattering costume, unlike the mascara-eyed New Romantics Des Barres and Taylor. With so many faded '80s rock musicians playing faded '80s rock musicians, Sugar Town qualifies as creative nonfiction.

'Sugar Town' (R; 93 min.), written and directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, photographed by Kristian Bernier and starring Ally Sheedy, Rosanna Arquette, Beverly D'Angelo and John Taylor, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the October 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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