Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 90 minutes
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The leading theory about the structure of the Universe supposes that it’s paradoxically both infinite and self-contained, kinda like an enormous, constantly expanding Mobeus Strip. While this seemed to make sense when I saw “A Brief History of Time,” I’d been up for about 48 straight hours at the time, so my mind was ripe for such preposterously revolutionary concepts. In any event, infinite and self-contained pretty well sums up the intertwined Los Angeles entertainment industry subculture inhabited by the gracelessly aging denizens of Allison Anders and Kurt Voss’ sprawling “Sugar Town.”
In true ensemble fashion, “Sugar Town” follows a colorful and talented cast with about two degrees of separation between them all. Aging rocker Clive (Duran Duran’s John Taylor) and his pining for motherhood wife Eva (a perfectly cast Rosanna Arquette) occupy one corner. The other members of Clive’s new band, a desperate, marginally talented supergroup built on the ashes of each member’s prior mega-successful band, reside in another along with their sleazy producer Bert. Liz (Ally Sheedy), an uptight woman more successful at production designing films than dating men, inhabits another. Finally, there’s Carl (John Doe), a struggling professional studio musician who battles Bert for delinquent payments and battles temptation to remain faithful to his very pregnant — again — wife. The wildcard link between these folks is Gwen (Jade Gordon), an attractive, brutally aggressive go-getter willing to do anything and screw anybody to make her dreams of a singing career come true.
Randomly ricocheting from storyline to storyline like a sci-fi laser blast, Gwen drives “Sugar Town” forward while she casually leaves behind the scattered wreckage of her amoral ambitions. Once I got past the revulsion at being reminded of the gaudy, conspicuous consumption that typifies LA, I actually got a kick out this film. Each of the main plots also has at least one subplot tendril snaking out to connect with another group of characters. For their part, most of the people in this film evolve out of their initial caricatures to become real and likable — if occasionally seedy — characters. Thankfully, Anders and Voss give us a true slice of life film here, rather than trying to wrap everything up in a nice neat little bundle at the end. Some storylines do, in fact, seem to come to some sort of closure while others appear to be just beginning. Life, as it’s depicted in “Sugar Town,” appears to be every bit as infinite and self-contained as the Universe itself.
Posted on November 8, 1999 in Reviews by Merle Bertrand
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