Smart slice of boho living, previously known as “Low Rent,” reps a very strong first effort for married helming-producing team Dan Bootzin and Elizabeth Rivera Bootzin. Funny pic casts a knowing eye on L.A. art world but isn’t too rarefied for general auds, especially ones who’ve clocked some slacker time on their resumes. Marketing presents a problem for “Life/Drawing,” but some ad exposure for its winning cast — led by up-and-comer Mark Ruffalo, as a would-be Picasso — would bring in the curious.
Ruffalo’s scruffy Alex, an Angeleno artist longer on theory than palpable talent, starts off in the cat-bird seat: He lives in a swanky pad with his rail-thin model girlfriend, Yvette (Anne Marie Johnson), and he’s finally going to get that one-man show he’s been working toward. Within a day, however, the show is canceled (“Your work is soulless,” the curator sniffs), and his gear is out on the street.
Yvetteless and broke, Alex gets back his old job at a crummy pizza joint and moves into a run-down building peopled by tenants who make Gorky’s “Lower Depths” crowd look cheery. In an inspired bit of casting, Alan Gelfant does a total 180 from his gentle-suitor role in “Next Stop Wonderland”; here, he plays Ray, the most intrusive building super west of the Mississippi — a philosophical party animal who wanders into anyone’s apartment just like he owns the place, while blaming any actual problems on unseen “managers.”
Also on hand are a lonely middle-aged woman (Mary Coleston) who makes Spam casseroles for any eligible men, a zaftig call girl (Krystina Carson) with a different uniform for every occasion and a Don Juan (Colombian star Manuel Cabral) who wanders the halls in his bathrobe, giving bad love advice — in Spanish.
Much as Alex is visibly wasting away over his lost dreams — and, crucially, Ruffalo manages to remain cute even when in full whine — things take a definite upswing when the lovable Lori (newcomer Beth Ulrich, with a thousand-watt smile) moves into his building.
In fact, her door is opposite his, so it’s almost inevitable that he yield to her Colorado country-girl charms. Even so, her bumpkin ways (and love of handguns!) get the better of our nudgy hero, who’s only articulate when it comes to art. “But she doesn’t know who Jackson Pollock is,” he complains to Ray, who sagely reminds him that “nobody knows who Jackson Pollock is.”
When Alex dumps Lori, it’s a shallow triumph of head over heart (and other regions), and the whole building turns against him, with results that resemble a stay-at-home version of Scorsese’s “After Hours.”
The helmer’s edgy script is wholly original, however, and Bootzin pulls off the trick of balancing our sympathies between characters who have little idea what they’re doing, while also commenting on the elusiveness of the creative process itself.
Hot thesping chemistry helps, as does lenswork that cleverly explores the big-enough canvas provided by the apartment-house setting. Folk-rock and cocktail-jazz oldies add an appropriate ring to the proceedings, which are hip without being pushy about it.