Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
"Sugar Town" knows its characters. It inhabits two overlapping worlds in Los Angeles: the world of people who were famous once, and those who will never be famous but dream of nothing else. "We were all in seminal bands in the '70s and '80s," a middle-age rock musician observes, sadly and defiantly, at a meeting to discuss forming a new band. The problem with being seminal is that you end up in the shadow of your offspring.
These has-beens have money. Not a lot, in some cases, but enough. The movie slides easily in and out of their homes, comfortable, untidy structures in the Hollywood hills, strong on the "features" real estate agents brag about, but looking knocked together out of spare parts of better houses. Their clothes and hair reflect the way they looked when they were famous; their images are made from last year's merchandise.
The movie's insider atmosphere is honestly come by. The co-directors, Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, live in this world themselves, many of the actors are their friends, the houses are where some of these people actually live, and the movie was shot in three weeks. If it were a documentary, it would be a good one.
The problem with being 40ish is that you're still young enough to want to do dangerous things, but too old to ignore the dangers. Drugs are not free from the shadow of rehab. Sex is a need but not a drive; you want it, but it's so much trouble to go out and get it. Always at your back you hear time's winged chariot drawing near. It's bad enough to be asked to play Christina Ricci's mother, as a former slasher movie queen (Rosanna Arquette) observes, but worse because "she's not an ingenue anymore." The movie cuts between a rich assortment of characters; it's like a low-rent, on-the-fly version of Robert Altman's "The Player" or "Short Cuts." We meet a production designer (Ally Sheedy) who is so paralyzed by self-help mantras that she has no social life. "Your genital area is completely blocked," says her "openness counselor," offering a massage which we suspect could unblock it using the most traditional of approaches. Her house is a mess. She hires a housekeeper (Jade Gordon), a showbiz wannabe we see badgering a drugged-out composer for the "three hit songs" she has paid him to write. When Sheedy finally gets a date (with a music agent), the housekeeper sabotages the date by advising against a sexy black dress and in favor of a painting smock that's "more you," then gets a ride home from the agent and descends directly to openness counseling.