Films shot in Portland have a special, regionally romantic appeal independent of their actual cinematic worth. Hell, I've sat through celluloid suckathons like the Teri Hatcher-Andrew "Dice" Clay bomb Brainsmasher: A Love Story--or even the Cheryl Ladd-Ed Marinaro retchfest Dancing with Danger--and liked it, torturous as it may have been.
Far less brainsmashing and painful is Down & Out with the Dolls, a likable, low-budget vid that tracks the fictional travails of a punky, all-girl Portland band--the Paper Dolls--who spend as much time in personal rows as they do in rock clubs. Anyone who's done time in bands will identify with the Dolls' archetypal members: the narcissistic microphone queen who bitches "this town is gonna kill me...I gotta move to New York or something"; the idealistic, hyper-emotional guitarist (well-played by local homegirl Nicole Sangsuree Barrett); the newly lesbian drummer who acts "like a total dude"; and, um, the bassist who, as usual, gets short shrift. True, their parties, practices, gigs, record-label troubles and love struggles are not terrifically novel subject matter. But their very familiarity makes for an amiable grrrl-pop soap opera. After all, who doesn't dig stories featuring revenge sex and catfights with trash cans?
Speaking of familiar, many recognizable faces make their way onto the screen, most notably Viles/Hospitals singer Jennifer Shepard (a natural in the role of Alcoholly) and A.C. Cotton frontman Alan Charing (as the Pop-Up Records label honcho). Scenes are shot in PDX locales like Fellini/Satyricon, Discourage Records, Burnside Skatepark, Vita Cafe, crummy NoPo bungalows and, if you look closely, even the now-defunct EJ's. Is that your band's sticker in the background? Is that you? And isn't that...why, yes, it is!...Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, as wart-faced and word-slurring as ever in a cameo role!
Of course, the acting (of both the under- and over- varieties) and production values slot Down & Out with the Dolls strictly into the indie-film category. Sometimes it also verges on the borderline of cute, like a twentysomething Square Pegs as directed by a Slackers-age Richard Linklater. But hey...if the world needs a portrayal of young female self-assertion--and, more specifically, one filmed in Portland--this has gotta be better than Foxfire.
Rated R. Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. Friday- Thursday, March 21-27. $3-$5.
Ten percent of net proceeds benefit the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls.