8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A flawed, but beautiful, mess.,
This review is from: Southland Tales [DVD] (DVD)
Whilst many of the reviews I'd seen for this film were resoundingly negative, I was a big fan of Donnie Darko and I noticed that many of the people who liked it referred to other artists I liked such as Philip.K. Dick and David Lynch when discussing this film. So I took a gamble and ordered it.
And indeed, the reviews here on Amazon are right. Yes, all of them. This isn't just a Marmite movie, which people either love or hate, it's a movie that has so many strengths and weaknesses that it's possible to have any, and all, opinions about it simultaneously.
The cast have received unfair criticism. While I've never been a fan of either the Rock or Seann William Scott, they turn in solid, affecting performances as do other "lightweight" actors like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake and a wonderfully creepy Jon Lovitz. Similarly, the cinematography and direction are excellent - every shot is wonderfully framed. However, even here limitations in Kelly's style are evident - there are several examples of the "slow motion / wandering" camera that he used to great effect in Darko, and uses again here. It IS great, but one has to wonder how limited his directorial vocabulary if his style is already so evident after only two films. The musical interludes, are again, as in Darko, beautifully filmed and the score is a mood-enhancing, integral part of the movie. And the SFX are excellent.
So a joy to look at, with an interesting cast on top form. However, where the film falls down is the script. It's ambitious, yes, which is always a bonus. And there are some nice allusions to literature and music. But overall it has a hotchpotch of a plot that seems to have been so big and sprawling that it got away from Kelly and he was unable to get far enough away from the film to see it as a whole, resulting in an incoherent mess that has no meaning, which then tries to hide behind this lack of meaning by pretending it's some kind of cinematic collage, claiming that, "Ah, but the meaning is here - it's just opaque. Just try and see it, if you are bright enough."
Unfortunately, as others have said there is a very strong element of Emperor's New Clothes, here - even Mulholland Drive and PKD's novels had SOME sense of meaning to them. Unfortunately, there isn't one to this film. Indeed, even in the sole DVD Extra, a "Making of featurette", several of the stars claim that they have no idea what the film is about, Lovitz seeming to think that as his individual scenes made sense that there must be some hidden meaning to the film as a whole that he can not grasp. And this is where the film falls down. Someone in the production should have sat Kelly down and actually asked him what he was trying to do with Southland Tales. Instead, everyone seems to have just assumed that he knew what he was doing and that there was some hidden meaning to it all. There isn't.
So worth seeing, then but certainly not the work of genius that many have tried to claim.