Cast & Crew
Director : Terry Gilliam
Producer : Rhonda Baker, Paul Brett, Gabriella Martinelli, Nick O'Hagan, Jeremy Thomas, Peter Watson,
Screenwriter : Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni,
Starring : Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer, Jennifer Tilly,
It's not that there's necessarily anything wrong with a film that uses the dead gas escaping from a putrefying corpse for comic effect by making it sound like flatulence. There's nothing that says a film can't find the humor or humanity in a mentally damaged, possibly homicidal man befriending a lonely pre-teen girl of dubious sanity with whom he seems to have less-than-honorable intentions. And there's nothing wrong with having squirrels or severed dolls-heads speak to that same girl in lieu of human companionship. In short, it's not the dark subject matter of Terry Gilliam's Tideland that makes it so squirmingly unwatchable, it's his callous, giggly, and monstrously tone-deaf approach.Based on the novel by Mitch Cullen, Gilliam's film is a trippy fantasia that has the feeling of a Neil Gaiman pastiche of a junkie version of Alice in Wonderland as interpreted by Asia Argento and JT LeRoy -- only worse. The rather brilliantly naturalistic Jodelle Ferland wastes her talent playing Jeliza-Rose, a young girl of uncommonly optimistic outlook whose no-good parents (Jennifer Tilly and Jeff Bridges) are squabbling junkies who barely pay attention to her unless it's to help them shoot up. Not long into the film, Tilly fatally overdoses, sending Jeliza-Rose and her dad, Noah, on the road, as Noah is convinced in his heroin haze that the authorities will be after him. They end up at his old family farmhouse, boarded up and filled with the dusty memories of his long-dead mother. Then Noah ODs, too, leaving Jeliza-Rose on her own.She doesn't seem to mind, really, as it takes her awhile to even realize Noah is dead (in the meantime, she dresses his corpse in a wig and makeup). The world through Jeliza-Rose's eyes seems a pretty wonderful place, which she fills with imaginary voices and fantastical creations. The house itself is full of undiscovered treasure and surrounded by tall, wind-blown prairie grass. Meanwhile, just down the road is another house where a crazy woman in a black beekeepers' outfit (Janet McTeer) and her younger brother (Brendan Fletcher), the previously mentioned potential psychopath who initially comes off as an innocent but seems later to take a liking to Jeliza-Rose.Tideland is obviously a story packed full of material that's best handled delicately, what with the overall fog of insanity and the intimations of pedophilia. The problem here is that "delicate" is not a word one would ever use to describe Gilliam. A filmmaker with obvious and commendable visual talents (strangely in abeyance here), his storytelling taste has always vacillated between the sarcastic and the sentimental, with Tideland being a stomach-churning slurry of the two. In a story that calls for a light hand, Gilliam uses only the hammer, smacking home each and every scene with acting best described (with the exception of Ferland) as hysterical and a sense of humor that goes beyond the merely tasteless and verges on the deranged.There's always the chance that the whole film is a great put-on, a low-budget joke of the most gigantic order -- it does literally end, after all, with a train-wreck. Anything is possible. But that may not matter in the end, because if there was ever a film to end a career, Tideland is it.The tide is high and I'm movin' on.