On the heels of his disappointing The Brothers Grimm, which really wasn't that bad, filmmaker Terry Gilliam doesn't need another failure, but here it is. Tideland is a dreary, sordid tale set in derelict homes about too-perky, too-talkative ten-year-old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who lives in utter squalor with failed rock musician father Noah (Jeff Bridges), a wasted, hallucinogenic loser with a penchant for flatulence, and space-cadet mother Queen Gunhilda (Jennifer Tilly), another drug-addicted nut job who unceremoniously o.d's.
Noah and Jeliza-Rose hop a bus to what is apparently Noah's mother's house, a lonely, crumbling structure on a vast, desolate prairie. As Dad wastes away mumbling about Jutland, Jeliza-Rose recruits those who inhabit her fantasy life, especially the four finger puppets who are the girl's best friends. Noah finally expires in his chair, but Jeliza-Rose continues to minister to him, even dressing him up. The corpse's odor finally provides a clue to the real state of things.
Jeliza-Rose cozies up to her neighbors, who include ultra-weird Dell (the hugely talented Janet McTeer, wasted here in the non-drug sense) and Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), her mentally challenged brother. Their idea of interior design has much to do with taxidermy.
Tideland, like so many better Gilliam works, does offer some diverting special effects (some animals and puppets come to life and the physical environment becomes fantastical), but in this age of CGI being able to create anything, who cares unless the trickery is organic to some kind of story?
Distasteful characters and dismal settings aside, this Canada-U.K. co-production also lacks a driving narrative. Tides ebb and flow, but this tide just sits there letting the sludge accumulate. Apparently, overactive, babbling Jeliza-Rose and her fantasy life are meant to be the film's raison d'etre. But Ferland's odd, phony drawl and eager need to please smack of a talent show, not a film performance.
Gilliam, with credits like Time Bandits, Brazil and The Fisher King, and veteran producer Jeremy Thomas, with films like Sexy Beast and The Last Emperor, have given us great work in the past. With Tideland, one can only wonder: What the heck were these guys thinking?