Jeliza-Rose’s parents are a couple of dead beat drug addicts. The only thing keeping her from going insane is a vivid imagination and the imaginary friends she invents as she lives on an old abandoned country estate.
“Tideland” is a great example of a Terry Gilliam film that I would not recommend to just everyone. It has many of the things that I love about Gilliam but if you aren’t prepared for them, the film might seem to be pretty gross or hard to swallow at points. I certainly hope nobody went into this film thinking, “Jeff Bridges? I love the Big Lebowski.”
The film opens with a couple of Gilliam’s classic, addled, eccentric characters. They are Jeliza-Rose’s (Jodelle Ferland, “Silent Hill”) parents but they really serve more as a reality to be escaped than as a functioning caring family. Jeliza-Rose’s mom (Jennifer Tilly, “Liar, Liar”) dies and her father Noah (Jeff Bridges, “The Fisher King”) runs off with Jeliza-Rose so she won’t be taken away from him. They runaway to country home he grew up in only to find that it has been ravaged by vandals and squatters of whom they merely become the latest.
With Noah’s substance abuse making him a virtual non-entity in her life, Jeliza_Rose is left to wander the house and lands, making up stories and imaginary friends with doll heads, squirrels, and an old ghost-witch that lives nearby as well as the ghost’s brother, a mentally challenged young man named Dickens (Brendan Fletcher, “Freddy vs Jason.”)
These adventures are the bright spot of the film. They take on a very Alice in Wonderland feel as Jeliza-Rose makes all sorts of odd friends n a world which often seems to make very little sense. Slowly over the course of these meandering adventures, Jeliza realizes that she has lost her parents and that this strange world she is living in is no place for a young girl to grow up.
Unfortunately, the rough parts of this film are many. First off, it’s gross. There is a lot of bathroom humor as well as a dead body whose slow decomposition is a talking point throughout. It is never done in a very open way but in a kid-joking-about-someone-smelling-like-farts way. It’s still pretty gross though and I can definitely see a whole host of people turning up their noses at this.
The second way this film is a little gross is that Jeliza carries on a pseudo sexual girlfriend boyfriend relationship with her friend Dickens. The ways in which this relationship are inappropriate are myriad and I was definitely uncomfortable in a few of their “kissing” scenes. Thematically I don’t have a problem with that element. It makes sense and there is no one correcting or contextualizing those feelings for them so it isn’t surprising that things might turn that way but there is definitely something profoundly unsettling about the relationship.
Also, as someone who cares deeply for people with developmental difficulties, I am always a little on edge about how they are portrayed in film. I think this movie does a fine job but I can definitely imagine that some individuals might have some issues with Brendan Fletcher’s portrayal of Dickens.
None of these things took too much away from the movie for me, however. This is why I would simply recommend that people get more familiar with Terry Gilliam before watching this one. As a veteran Gilliam film watcher, none of these elements surprised me very much at all. You can’t watch “Monty-Python and the Holy Grail” and be unaware that there is a love for bathroom humor and irreverence toward dead bodies and bodily functions. Gilliam’s whole ouvre stands as a proof of his love for the mentally and physically challenged and his utter fascination with their constant inclusion in modern legend, fable, and mythology which he creates.
Once again, this is Gilliam’s strength. Weaving together the flotsam and jetsam of a wrecked ship of how life ought to go and from it forming a make-shift fortress from a child’s imagination. This film goes hand in hand with “The Fisher King” in that aspect but this time presenting an innocent child scrambling for a life where there is none and constructing their own stories and relationships so as to survive. It is a testament to the resilience of a child but also their vulnerability and need for stability.
Maybe not Gilliam’s easiest watch or his finest but I am not in the least bit ashamed to say I liked it and would recommend it to the Gilliam fan over movies like “Jabberwocky.”
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