I know that much has been said about Richard Kelly’s long anticipated follow up to his cult favorite directorial debut Donnie Darko. I really enjoy DD and initially anticipated his follow up with some eagerness.
Even prior to the poor reception at Cannes, I started to become skeptical. I watched the original DD DVD release with both of the commentary tracks featuring the young director (as I’m inclined to do) and noticed that he alluded to certain elements of his intended vision/story that weren’t clear at all within the film. I thought it was strange that his film worked so well in spite of his failure to communicate these intended, and I think, overly explicit/complicated story details. My fears seemed closer to reality when Kelly released the Director’s Cut of Donnie Darko with all new commentary tracks as well as some additional elements in the film that did not strengthen the movie. One of the commentary tracks featured Kevin Smith alongside Kelly where he even has a “really?!” moment when Kelly is explaining his narrative intention. (I should also mention that Kelly replaces Echo and the Bunnymen’s perfectly placed The Killing Moon with an INXS song as he originally wanted = I think that is crazy talk.) I still held out hope, though things turned particularly dire when I saw the Kelly penned atrocity Domino, directed by the extremely hit-and-miss Tony Scott. All of this combined with the feedback from Cannes had me pretty worried that Southland Tales would be a real mess.
Well Kelly didn’t disappoint in the mess category. ST starts out rocky with about 15 minutes of expository voice over, animation and handheld faux home video footage. The narrative is such a mess that Kelly has the characters explaining illogical conclusions and “necessary” story mathematics throughout the entire duration of the film. I hate to be the one to say, but that isn’t storytelling. I watched a few minutes of the behind-the-scenes bonus material on the DVD. Odd how the actors that I saw interviewed all seemed to say the same thing. Roughly; “I don’t really know what it is about, but it’s the Donnie Darko guy!” By the way, the cast is enormous and weird. This seems like another instance of Kelly’s ego running rampant as though he believed that he could pull a Tarantino and revive certain careers, showing the potential that only he saw in them. Wrong-O. I won’t even mention the cast here because Kelly has embarrassed them so completely (sorry about those named below); The blame lies with the writer/director.
All of this said, I do think Richard Kelly has some real talent. He is visually skilled, making some interesting choices in his camera angles, moves and perspectives. I think that if he steps away from the writing aspect of filmmaking, he could have a bright future. Maybe with some time spent with other writer’s material he can gain some perspective and focus on his strengths. The fact that his next project, The Box, is an adaptation of a book/The Twilight Zone episode might really work in his favor.
I usually find myself believing that creative types should be left alone by the studio business folk to finish what they started. If you liked what was on the written page enough to finance the film, leave the creative people to do the creating (and cutting). In the case of Southland Tales, I feel a little sorry for the studio. This movie clearly suffers from an out of control ego unwilling to streamline the film for its own benefit (if there would be anything left). I didn’t mention that it runs around 2 ½ hours did I?
Given the overwhelmingly negative reviews of the film, including this one, a friend and I tried to come up with some positive quote pulls for the studio to use. Here are a few:
“Cheri Oteri at her best!” (This is interchangeable with Bai Ling)
“Less rollerblading then Prayer of the Rollerboys“
“Janeane Garofalo was cut out of this movie”
“If you love Booger (Curtis Armstrong), you’ll love Southland Tales!”
“An inspired performance from Wallace Shawn as Bill Gates crossed with an Oompa Loompa”
“From the writer of Domino”
“Twice as much Seann William Scott as any other film”
“Kevin Smith is visually unrecognizable”