Don't be put off by the fact that this is a movie about over-educated, alienated young men trying to make it big in Los Angeles. The Low Life isn't the sort of self-indulgent, self-absorbed tripe that a slew of Gen X poster children have passed of as ironic and insightful. No, Low Life director George Hickenlooper doesn't believe that everything that happens to him and his oh-so-alienated friends is interesting and meaningful. Perhaps he's steered clear of film schools. Or perhaps he's a born storyteller. In any case, in this movie he makes greasy-haired, posturing lost boys and their pathetic lives engaging.
He's helped by Rory Cochrane, a gifted actor who here has a slick, James Dean look and conveys a wealth of emotional responses with subtle winces. Cochrane plays the anti-hero, John, who actually manages a meaningful relationship with someone who wouldn't get I Dream of Jeannie jokes. That person is his Uncle Darr (Brent Williams), the individual he most loves and respects. Darr is, in his own brusque way, supportive. He thinks it's good that John has gone off to the wicked city to be a writer. But he warns John not to get mixed up with others: "The petty seductions of this world are best left to other people" is what he says.
Though he'd prefer to sit in his room and write and follow his uncle's dictum to not get mixed up with people, John has to earn the rent money. So he works as a temp and -- in a wonderful bit of invention -- must wear a cheap suit every day. If he were wearing the suit to look cool, the viewer might feel that Hickenlooper was just using the black slacks and thin tie for hipster points. But Hickenlooper goes all the way, having John spend a lot of time at terrible temporary jobs. He spends his days sitting in a conference room and separating the top sheets and carbons of credit card vouchers into two piles. His best friends -- Yale grads reduced to alarming bitterness -- work with him. While they work, the sidekicks, over-educated and without a clue, rattle on; John remembers his uncle's words and sits like a stone.
At home, John is trying not to get mixed up with his new roommate -- his old roomie bailed, leaving a note explaining that he'd sublet the place to his cousin from Modesto. He can't avoid getting mixed up with women, either. The main woman in John's life is a whacked Southern woman, played by Kyra Sedgwick, who's well on her way to becoming a blowzy hag.
The whole thing is painfully, stupidly realistic. And John, of course, learns that one is always going to get mixed up with people. The Low Life isn't solid as a rock, but it's a well-crafted movie, and presented with conviction. It offers exactly what one looks for at film festivals -- intriguing new talent.
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-- Edith Sorenson