Monday, June 11, 2007

Finished watching Terry Gilliam's Tideland yesterday.

At the beginning, Gilliam appears to address the audience in a scenario that reminded me of old films (such as Frankenstein, unless I'm mistaken) in which the director or some other interested party would step out and make the case for tolerance or understanding of the film they were about to present. In it, he states that some will love it, some will hate it, and some won't know what to think about it. I'm afraid I fall in that camp.

As with any Gilliam film, it's full of arresting imagery and odd characters, and a sort of muted-down dash of Monty Python view-askance humor. But it's presented in a such a shrill and hyperactive way that it becomes an endurance test instead of a showcase to depict how a child's essential innocence can deal with any sort of dire situation. And this one is dire indeed.

Jeliza-Rose, played with assurance and dodgy southern twang by Jodelle Ferland, is the daughter of way-past-the-sell by-date musician and junkie Noah (Jeff Bridges, who has this kind of role down to a science) and grotesque Courtney Love-analog Queen Gunhilda (Jennifer Tilly). Jeliza-Rose pretty much is the only reasonably competent member of the household, even to the point of cooking up her dad's smack and assisting him after he shoots up. When Gunhilda overdoses on methadone, the father and daughter flee to his Grandmother's house in Texas, which they find deserted and looking like something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre when they arrive. Later that night, Dad shoots up, overdoses, and Jeliza-Rose is left to her own devices...which include having frenzied, running conversations with her disembodied doll heads and encountering her neighbors, a deraged, witchlike taxidermist (eventually she administers her craft to Dad, and it's not the first time she's done so, to humans that is) and her lobotomized brother.

Somehow Gilliam manages to depict all this gruesomeness in imaginative fashion, but after a while the all the hysterics become wearing, and no amount of visual spice can help.

It's a brave film, I suppose, especially in this era that reveres and strives to protect the perceived innocence of children above and beyond all else. Performances are fine for the most part; Tilly is amusing in her limited screentime, and Bridges is always good, but the actors portraying Dell (the taxidermist) and Dickens (the brother) could have stood to have dialed it down a couple of notches. Anyway, I wish that there had been more of a point to it all- sure, we see that Jeliza-Rose can cope by descending into (what I perceived, anyway) as madness, but is that really a compelling reason to ask us to donate two hours of our time?

Tideland, I must conclude, seems to be for hardcore Gilliam admirers only, and few others. As several reviewers have noted, it appropriately ends with a trainwreck...but that's not fair. It has many merits...but sifting through the sludge to glean them may be too much to ask for those who aren't already acolytes, like me.

(Cross-posted from the LJ)

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