Allison Anders and Kurt Voss, the writer/director team behind Sugar Town (October Films), want you to feel sorry for aging glam rockers of the 1980s. The once glorified performers with over-styled hair of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll generation have become the fortysomething forgotten performers with sob stories on VH1’s “Behind the Music.” But, Anders and Voss don’t succeed, and neither does Sugar Town.
Despite some satirical jabs at the music industry, Sugar Town fails to introduce new ideas and is plagued by uneven performances from an ensemble cast and its lack of a narrative plot. The film attempts to capture authenticity by hiring rock musicians John Doe, John Taylor, Michael Des Barres and Martin Kemp for the lead roles.
The story is merely a series of amusing vignettes surrounding ex-stars struggling to get their demos picked up by a major record label. Lead guitarist Clive (Taylor) struggles with the realization of waning creativity, exemplified by his dreadful tune “Brown Gravy Girl.” Clive’s troubles are furthered when a groupie-turned-new-age reincarnate drops off a 12-year-old Goth kid “Nerve” that Clive supposedly fathered while on tour long ago.
Clive’s actress-wife Eva (Rosanna Arquette, Hope Floats) is going through her own mid-life troubles – she’s upset when offered a movie role as Christina Ricci’s mother. However, Nerve (Vincent Berry, Breakdown) evokes a motherly instinct in Eva, and they do mother-son things together, such as make cookies. Nerve is interested in Eva’s past roles in horror films but shows no interest in Clive’s crappy music. After hearing the demo Nerve suggests the band name, “Shit on a stick.”
Meanwhile, band member Nick (Des Barres) struggles with age. The over-40 rocker still wears eyeliner and leopard-skin shirts. His libido gets a brutal bashing when a young hottie at a club asks for his autograph – for her mother. Later Nick is pressured to sleep with a potential backer for the record. He initially declines but later accepts and visits Jane (Beverly D’Angelo, American History X) in a brief but amusing scene as a lonely, horny drunk with cash to spare.
The action then switches to another old guitarist, Carl (Doe), the most likable guy in the lot despite his poor acting. He leaves a pregnant wife and junkie brother at home to tour with a hot Latin diva, who makes a pass at him. That sends him running home to find a family mess. When his wife scolds him that they could have used the money from the gigs, he responds blankly “there are more important things than money.”
Carl is contrasted with the evil Gwen (Jade Gordon), who steps on everyone she can to get a record deal. She’s hired as a housekeeper by Liz, a hapless film producer in search of love. Liz is played by Ally Sheedy, who knows exactly what it’s like to be an aging ’80s star. Gwen screws over Liz, stealing her jewelry and her date, a nondescript character Burt (Larry Klein), the music producer who is working with aging musicians. Gwen exploits a junkie songwriter Kevin (Jeff McDonald). Gwen displays no human compassion and shows the back-stabbing nature of the music industry.
Sugar Town analyzes the different roads of stardom – the up-and-comers and the has-beens. The film observes the different ways people react in their search for success and stardom. The writers use the metaphor of pigs being fed (Carl owns a pig farm) for the greedy, money-driven music industry. Other than that, the film is rather aimless, without a real direction or story. It is visually unimpressive and has a dreadfully disappointing, abrupt ending.
Sugar Town does have something to say about the state of music, but it isn’t anything you don’t already know. Overall, the film leaves you wanting more. Anders and Voss convey the bland, aimless life of aging rockers in the bland, aimless and rather forgettable Sugar Town.