By Joe Lozito
Remember "Brazil"? Remember "Twelve Monkeys" or "The Fisher King"? Surely you remember "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". You'll want to keep all those in mind if you ever go anywhere near "Tideland", director Terry Gilliam's bafflingly awful adaptation of Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel about a young girl orphaned by her junkie parents at a remote farmhouse.
Mr. Gilliam's films have always been a bit hard to follow - that's half the fun of watching them. But "Tideland" is something different. Watching this film, it's hard to imagine what the typically-visionary director and Monty Python alum was thinking. It could have been the talking squirrels that attracted him. Or maybe the cornfield-as-ocean motif. Or maybe it was the bee lady with a penchant for dressing in a black top hat. Whatever it was, I hope it wasn't the borderline pedophilia between the young heroine and a mentally-challenged farmhand.
Now, I like pushing boundaries as much as the next guy. When it's done well, as in say Todd Solondz' wonderfully dark "Happiness"
, it can be searingly challenging. But in the case of "Tideland" it's just uncomfortable to watch. Not because of the taboo subject matter but because you feel bad for the actors - particularly young Jodelle Ferland as the imaginatively-named Jeliza-Rose - though that name gets less and less entertaining the more it's heard. And it's heard many, many times courtesy of the constant bickering from her four doll's heads. After playing Radha Mitchell's daughter in the similarly awful "Silent Hill"
, this young actress is in for some extensive time on the therapist's couch when she grows up. Though Ms. Ferland has a precocious enough presence, she's far too young to carry the meandering script, co-written by Mr. Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, with whom the director also collaborated on 1998's relative masterpiece "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".
Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly are nearly unrecognizable (and possibly with good reason) as Jeliza-Rose's criminally-negligent parents. Scenes of the young girl preparing heroine injections for her father are as close as this film comes to witty black comedy. It's all downhill from there. I didn't think I'd miss Ms. Tilly's shrill harridan, but halfway through the film's overlong 122 minutes, as Jeliza-Rose begins an uneasy (for the audience) relationship with the mentally-challenged Dickens (Brendan Fletcher, also unrecognizable), I would have welcomed her back.
We tend to forgive directors their missteps, particularly cult heroes like Mr. Gilliam. Some directors test our patience more than others - see Brian De Palma's latest trial "The Black Dahlia"
. But "Tideland" is so irredeemably bad, that it nearly makes you question your faith in the filmmaker. Borrowing more than a little from "Psycho", the aforementioned "bee-lady" in "Tideland" is also a budding taxidermist. She stuffs - or threatens to stuff - nearly everything that moves in the film. One wants her to go to work on Mr. Gilliam's career, in order that we, his fans, might remember him as he once was.