Now I’m glad I saw Tideland and wrote my review before seeing anyone else’s reaction because I probably would have second-guessed my gut instinct and wondered if I was pretending to “get it” just to seem enlightened.
However, reading a few of the actual reviews (not just their pull-quotes) reassures me that I didn’t have a fluke experience, and none encourage me to revise my opinion.
Some reviewers are clearly insane, complaining that the adults in the movie (i.e., everyone except the POV character) don’t give realistic performances. To such a person I suppose there is nothing you can say.
However, I came across a telling detail — common to both negative and positive reviews — that I think explains the general critical consensus:
Indeed, the Toronto audience with which I saw Tideland last year responded as though being water-boarded—a 15-minute immersion had people gasping for the exits, recapitulating the movie’s plot by leaving poor Jodelle to her own devices.
— Hoberman at the Village Voice (a very negative review)
Childhood innocence and its inevitable corruption are major themes here, and scenes that imply a sexualised relationship between Dickens and Jeliza-Rose provoked a critical storm at Tideland’s Toronto premiere.
— David Mattin at the BBC (a very positive review)
So it sounds like most of the critics adopted a herd mentality after seeing the reaction at Toronto and are probably just afraid not to pan a movie that “everyone” seemed to hate.
If critics for newspapers see their job as reporting whether or not they think general audiences will enjoy a movie, then the 21% tomatometer (6 fresh out of 28 reviews as of this date) is probably fair . But if their job is actually to be proper “critics” then I think their reviews reflect a failure of their suspension of disbelief, in particular an unwillingness if not inability to consent to the child’s (and therefore the film’s) point of view.
Admittedly Tideland had some disquieting moments, but I still think the movie managed to transcend their incipient darkness through the pure innocence of the lead actress.
There’s at least one review which, though almost counterproductively unrestrained and rambling, also sees in the movie what I did. Though his phrasing is unclear where it counts in the first sentence, I think what he’s trying to say is correct:
Mr. Gilliam is one of the few creative forces working in an almost entirely non-creative industry… who acknowledges that to candy-coat a childhood is to profane it, and also that to render a child a martyr for adult causes is to sully a psyche that doesn’t even know yet how to get dirty. This problematic representation presents one tough rope to walk, but Gilliam and his crew here practically dance along it, deftly detailing the glorious and creepy stuff of which dreams are made.
— Gregory at UberCine
As for filmmaker endorsements, supposedly Cronenberg loves Tideland.
However, I doubt Ebert would like Tideland since he hated Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, though I would consider Tideland actually less “exploitative.”