Sugar Town

Directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss
Starring: Jade Gordon, Larry Klein, John Taylor, Rosanna Arquette, John Doe, Ally Sheedy.
MPAA Rating: R for strong language, some drug content and sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 10, 1999

In Superstar, Mary Katherine Gallagher wanted success in show business, but try as she might, she didn't know how to go about getting it. Co-directors Allison Anders and Kurt Voss know exactly what must be done.

To try to describe the plot of Sugar Town would be impossible, since it really doesn't have one. Basically, Anders and Voss have remade Robert Altman's Nashville, and set it in Los Angeles. Let's see if you could briefly describe the plot of that film. In this film, a sea of characters are carefully introduced, each of them connected to the businesses of rock 'n roll and filmmaking. The first character shown, and the anchor of the film, is Gwen (Jade Gordon), a wannabe rock star that is intent on making it, no matter who she has to destroy to get there.

The film breaks apart into multiple threads, each of them inter-related, never more than two degrees separated from Gwen. This connection is also made possible by Burt King (Larry Klein), a former bassist who is now a big-time record producer. One of his new acts is a trio of aging rock stars from different bands of the 1970's and 80's. They each go off into their own stories, including the guitarist, Clive (John Taylor). His wife, Eva (Rosanna Arquette), is an actress that is reaching a point in her career where she has to play Christina Ricci's mother, even if she thinks she's too young. We also see the exploits of her friend, Liz (Ally Sheedy), a production designer who hires Gwen as a housekeeper, and she even goes on a date with Burt. Not to mention Burt's other client, Carl (John Doe), who goes on the road leaving his very pregnant wife and three kids alone with his brother, Rick (Richmond Arquette), a recovering junkie who just got out of rehab. There's even more going on, but it's all too much to describe.

Obviously, only a talent the magnitude of Altman's can pull off a film like this single-handed. Anders and Voss make a good team and manage to make their film work. It is only 92 minutes long, about half the length of Nashville or Short Cuts, but it really couldn't have gone on any longer. To make a film in the style of another, very prominent director invites comparison, and Sugar Town just doesn't hold up.

We never get the opportunity to learn much about any particular character, but sometimes that works as a benefit. Little surprises and twists come up, which helps make the film more interesting. The cast is also essential, and Anders and Voss chose to use real rockers to play the musicians, which allows for very natural performances. Of course, Rosanna Arquette can identify with being an actress whose career is in the same phase as Eva's. This degree of comfort in the actors helps make the film enjoyable for the audience, even though they are forced to deal with such a complex tapestry of stories.

I would certainly recommend Sugar Town over Superstar for anybody over the age of 16. Of course, your local cineplex isn't interested in showing movies for adults, so good luck.

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan