Thursday, March 25, 2010

Down and Out with the Dolls (2003)

Directed by Kurt Voss
Starring Zoe Poledouris, Kinnie Starr, Nicole Barrett, Melody Moore

Although not necessary for your enjoyment of this plucky little rock and roll movie, it might help if you remember the early 80's twin no-budget epics Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar, starring Redd Kross and just about every LA punk without a day-job, because they are quite similar in both spirit and story, being about the rise and eventual demise of an all-girl rock band desperate to make it to the top, or at least the middle, of their local scene. Unlike those seminal shlock-fests, however, Down and Out With the Dolls is actually accomplished, well-written, and full of funny, believable performances from the young cast. Plus, no Redd Kross. Coyote Shivers is a main character, though, and if you squint hard enough, you'll even see former Nymph Inger Lorre, so there's still plenty of LA rock star cameos to go around.

The story takes place in the hip, funky hamlet of Portland, Oregon, which looks a lot like Boston, only rainier, filled with record stores, rock dives, coffee shops, and punk rockers on bicycles. Fauna (Poledouris), a screechy, peroxided Courtney-mighta-been has just been tossed out of her goth-lite band 'the Snogs' by her suddenly gay and probably always insufferably Eurotrash guitarist and boyfriend Paolo (Mikeal Jehanno). Being the reigning rock and roll bitch queen in town, she's quickly recruited by Kali (Barrett), an earnest young rocker grrrl looking to form a new all-chick band, the Paper Dolls. The Dolls are soon rounded out by by fledgling lesbian drummer Reggie (Starr) and curly haired scenester sweetheart Lavender (Moore) on bass. They dig into the dirty work of rock stardom, but tragedy soon strikes when they get tossed out of their rehearsal space because one of them broke the rules and shit in a bucket. With no place to play, the overly optimistic Kali gets the brilliant idea to have them all rent a house together, so they can live and work in harmony. Bad move.

Each of the girls have their own little dramedies to contend with. Reggie has just discovered that she likes kissing girls, and no one's filled her boyfriend in yet. Lavender's been neglecting her record store job and her record store boyfriend for a band with increasingly diminishing returns. Then there's the love triangle. Seems that Kali's main inspiration in music and life is Levi (Shivers), Portland's own slacker-sleaze punk rock legend. She's even written a gushing love song for him, detailing her days as a moon-eyed teen idolizing him from afar, back when they grew up in the same tiny suburb (forget the fact that there's got to be a 15 year age gap between Shivers and Barrett- it's only a movie, baby). Kali dreams of forming a side project with Levi, or to have the Paper Dolls open up for his band, or just to hang out and talk rock with him. Of course, Fauna's fucking him behind Kali's back. She's also fucking the local record label honcho, and just about anybody else she thinks will further her career.

Add an all-inclusive, all-weekend keg party at the Paper Dolls house to this volatile situation, and watch the bittersweet chaos erupt. Hearts are broken, guitars are smashed, Lemmy hides in the closet, and it all ends up with an accidental death and some hard lessons learned. Along the way, though, we're treated to one of the most honest, funniest portrayals of what it's really like to be in a rock and roll band that I've ever seen.  Down and Out with the Dolls is filled with quirky characters (the climactic party is like the Cantina scene in Star Wars, only with slumming rockers instead of aliens), enough monkeywrench sub-plots to fuel half a dozen gossip sections in a local rock fanzine, and a truly bitchin' rock and roll band. Aided greatly by it's use of Portland as a suitably soggy, cozy little rock hide-out, the movie is as poignant and charming as it is loud and trashy. Just like rock and roll, really.

- Ken McIntyre

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