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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Tideland" (2006)

It pains me to write this review. I have been a fan of Terry Gilliam’s since 1983, when I first saw an episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” His greatest directorial achievement, 1985’s “Brazil,” has been one of my top 5 favorite films of all time since I first saw it 20 years ago. It might even be my favorite film of all time. I’ve been defending his films ever since, even those considered to be failures (“The Brothers Grimm,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”). He’s just always been one of those guys who gets a lifetime pass from me. I have seen other critics go out of their way to try and defend his latest film, “Tideland,” with similar declarations of loyalty. I wish I could join them.

Sadly, though, I cannot. This time around, Gilliam has succeeded in alienating even me. The film opens with him giving an introduction, no doubt a response to the number of walk-outs during the film’s premiere at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. “I have a confession to make,” he says. “Many of you will not like this film…if [the movie] seems shocking, it is because it is innocent.” This tongue-in-cheek introduction represents the best of what “Tideland” has to offer: the director himself preparing his audience for a film they will either love or hate. Gilliam has always been fearless. Some would say he’s also always been self indulgent. Here, he’s both.

What happens in “Tideland” isn’t so much shocking as it is annoying. The content doesn’t so much illicit shock so much as the overall tone and Gilliam’s refusal to hold back. He appears to be his one and only audience. Every performance, every line of dialogue, every flight of fancy comes at us with a heightened pitch so screeching that you wish every character had their own volume dial.

The story, based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, appears to be a female version of Patrick McCabe’s “The Butcher Boy” (made into a superb film by Neil Jordan in 1998). It concerns a young girl, Joiza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who has a heavy metal rocker for a dad (Jeff Bridges) and a heroin addict for a mother (Sally Crooks). After her mother dies of an overdose, Joiza and her father move out to an old farmhouse. Her derelict father is no less whacked out than her mother and eventually he OD’s as well. Unable to let the death of her father deter her in the slightest, Joiza-Rose lets his corpse decay in the middle of the living room while she communicates with her collection of bodiless Barbie dolls, all of which have a distinct personality (but all with her voice).

The house she inhabits sits alone in the middle of a beautiful prairie. The locals appear to live in the same universe as Joiza-Rose. She meets Dell (Janet McTeer), who looks like a character from a Harry Potter book, complete with a bee keeper’s veil and black clothing. Living with Dell is the terminally childlike Dickens, played by Brendan Fletcher, who may have created the single most annoying human character to grace the silver screen since, well, anything with Chris Tucker. To me, this is where the shock comes in, that Gilliam would allow more than half the movie to be consumed by this relentlessly overbearing performance, especially after watching similar bouts with insanity from the likes of Brad Pitt in “12 Monkeys” and Robin Williams in “The Fisher King.”

At its best, “Tideland” does represent that which makes Gilliam such a virtuoso of visual flair. He still has the capability to show us images we’ve never seen before or could possibly see from any other director. It makes sense that he should be the director for Cullin’s source material. It makes sense that Gilliam should tell the story—any story, really—from a child’s point of view. He has done it before and with ingenious results (“Time Bandits,” “Baron Munchausen). With Jodelle Ferland in the lead, Gilliam has a strong child actress to anchor a better, more cohesive film. Unfortunately, this time Gilliam needed someone to anchor his own idiosyncrasies.

As tedious as “Tideland” may be, I can’t honestly hate it. I’m very curious to hear Gilliam’s commentary track on the DVD when it comes out and perhaps one day the film will grow on me. As of now, this represents a major mis-step from one of my favorite filmmakers. Sometimes, failures age gracefully and become the most interesting aspect of an artist’s career. Gilliam already has a rich history, both as a filmmaker and a rebel against the mainstream Hollywood system. As a director who has never sold out or made embarrassing compromises, he’s entitled to a misfire or two. I’m just sad to see it finally come to fruition.

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