Movie Review: Tideland
February 14, 2008

Before so much as a single frame of the actual movie "Tideland" begins, director Terry Gilliam takes a moment to set the stage for his potential audience. "A lot of people won't like this movie," he tells us, but he unearths a bright side on the other side of the coin: "Fortunately, a lot of people will." The rest of us, he predicts, won't know what to think.

After seeing the movie myself, I find myself in that last group. "Tideland" is the story of a young girl named Jeliza-Rose, portrayed passionately by young actress Jodelle Ferland (who, if her performance here is any indication, will surely go on to become one of the greatest actresses of her generation). She lives a life that generously might be called 'hellish.' Her mother and father are junkies prone to frightening mood swings and it quickly becomes clear that of the lot of them, the 7-year-old (just a guess on the age, by the way) is the most mature.

Before long, mommy dearest (Jennifer Tilly) is convulsing from a bad drug trip that leaves her a corpse. Jeliza-Rose's father (Jeff Bridges) is frightened and proposes a flaming monument in her honor, a suggestion Jeliza-Rose warns him doesn't make much sense. He relents and the two head off to escape the scene. They arrive eventually at an old house out in the middle of a sprawling countryside, where the rest of the movie will play out. Before long, Jeliza-Rose meets a mysterious woman and her 'mentally challenged' brother. Since Daddy is a non-factor back at the house, Jeliza-Rose makes the best of a bad situation and forms an uneasy acquaintance with the two strangers.

Most of the movie is about that relationship, and about (as Terry Gilliam notes in his introduction) the resiliancy of children. As he says, they have a tendency to bounce back. That's what we as an audience are expected to greet with interest: Jeliza-Rose subjected to one horrific encounter after another. We're supposed to chuckle at her wide-eyed innocence throughout the film as she mixes drugs for her junkie father, as she engages in debates with doll heads and as she begins to search for fulfillment in the inept young man who lives in the house across the way.

Entertaining some may find "Tideland," but it's hard for me to do as Gilliam instructs and put aside prejudices. It's hard to say that a child's wide-eyed innocence is inherently good and beautiful, to accept that as a constructive message from a film like this.

And quite frankly, when the movie isn't shocking a person with uncomfortable situations, it's rather dull. A little girl talking to her dolls hardly makes for thrilling cinema. As remarkable as the performances are, this amounts to a movie you watch when you want to find yourself challenged but not particularly entertained. Then the credits are rolling with as close to a fairytale ending as a grim production like this can manage, and you're presumably supposed to kick back and say "Now that's entertainment!"

Well, it wasn't entertainment for me. It felt a lot like watching "Schindler's List," really. I was challenged and left both movies thinking, only in the case of "Tideland," I'm not sure what I was even supposed to be considering. That children escape into imaginitive worlds to escape the harsh world around them? I didn't need a film to tell me that, and I don't need "Tideland." Odds are pretty good that you won't, either.


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MartinG MartinG - February 15, 2008 (01:47 AM)
I saw this movie almost two years ago, in a film festival, and found it absolutely disgusting and one of the very, very few movies I've wanted to walk out from. Terry Gilliam's ego is so huge that I'm surprised anyobody else can inhabit the same room as him at any given time, but I don't care about his claims of artistry -I don't need to see a little girl playing with the rotten corpse of her father to make it fart.
Suskie Suskie - February 15, 2008 (10:24 AM)
From what I've heard about Tideland, your score was rather generous.
johnny_cairo johnny_cairo - February 20, 2008 (11:03 PM)
I liked it. The love story between the girl and the retard was surprisingly effective and she has a very clear character arc and even a moment of redemption at the end (emerging from something that can only be defined as domestic terrorism, natch). Props for being adventurous enough to brave the journey.

Remember how Gilliam's Fear and Loathing was almost universally reviled when it came out? Now it's a bonafide cult classic.

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