Canada/United Kingdom, 2005
U.S. Release Date:
R (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer
Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, based on the novel by Mitch Cullin
Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna
Time and time again throughout Terry Gilliam's career, the director has been forced to endure studio interference. According to executives at some of the companies that have distributed the former Monty Python animator's films, his creative vision was often at odds with what could earn a movie mainstream acceptance. Unlike Brazil (which remains the poster child for studio meddling) and the critically-reviled The Brothers Grimm, Gilliam had total creative control with Tideland. So there was every reason for viewers to expect a "return to form." What we get, sadly, is easily the worst production Gilliam has ever been involved in, either behind the camera or in front of it. Tideland is, by turns, a complete bore and a creepy experience. And I don't mean "creepy" in a positive sense.
Things start out with some promise. Engaging young actress Jodelle Ferland plays Jeliza-Rose, the daughter of two drug addicted parents (Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly). Jeliza-Rose lives in a world that is half-real and half-fantasy. Her headless dolls have conversations with her, she imagines bog-men roaming around the house, and she dreams of living her life in Jutland. After Mom OD's, she and Dad head out to a big house on the prairie, the run-down domicile that was once the property of Jeliza-Rose's grandmother. Soon, Dad takes one "extended vacation" too many, and ends up inviting flies to join him as he stinks up a rocking chair. Meanwhile, Jeliza-Rose imagines a neighbor (Janet McTeer) to be a witch and the neighbor's retarded brother, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), to be her husband. There are talking squirrels, Alice in Wonderland references, taxidermy, and some unsavory considerations about the relationship between a little girl and a man who may or may not have "a thing."
Tideland sounds better on paper than it is to watch. This is a two-hour snoozefest. The imaginative parts are curtailed by the low budget. There's no point to the experience, and it's a chore to get through. One of the problems is the presence of the adults. It's easy to imagine how a better movie could have been made centered around Jeliza-Rose on her own, exploring magical fantasy-worlds of her imagination. Yet this seemingly obvious Wizard of Oz approach is not one that Gilliam explores. And some of the experiences Jeliza-Rose goes through while in the company of her deranged neighbors are difficult to watch. For example, she gets to watch the witch perform fellatio - good education for a young girl.
It's hard to say for whom this movie was made. I can't think of a demographic to which it will appeal. Another critic suggested that Gilliam probably made it only for himself, which is likely the case. But, if this is a picture the filmmaker really wanted to produce, it raises questions about the creative direction of his career. It's hard to believe the man who made The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, and Brazil (not to mention his Monty Python stuff) has gone off the deep end, but if he doesn't have anything better than Tideland to offer, there could be a problem. This is a rare movie about which everyone seems to share an opinion: it stinks.