Just How Bad is Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales?

Okay, so saying that I didn’t have a whole lot of hope for Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” is an understatement. I was excited to see the picture, but after delay after delay, was resigned to the idea that this movie just couldn’t possibly be any good, what with all the rumors about new edits and narrative problems associated with the storytelling. Add to that the film’s long delay, which is the first sign of trouble for a movie with the kind of A-list cast that “Southland Tales” boasts. Now, after what seems like years, “Southland Tales” has begun to make its way to the public, and the word is … not so good. But the question remains: Just how bad is “Southland Tales”? Pretty damn bad, apparently. Or, depending on who you read, pretty damn different.

Here’s an excerpt from the AP’s David Germain’s review of the movie:

Irksomely self-important, deliberately cryptic and cluttered, “Southland Tales” may strain the patience even of the cult crowd that embraced Kelly’s first film, “Donnie Darko,” a cinematic riddle that looks positively mainstream next to this fiasco.

Ouch. Our buddies over at Cinema Blend had this to say about it:

The best way to explain what’s wrong with Southland Tales is by comparing it back to Donnie Darko. Darko works brilliantly because it tells the story of a completely bizarre kid with completely bizarre problems, but sets it in an ordinary world and surrounds him with ordinary people who challenge him with ordinary, relatable problems. We sympathize and understand Donnie because even though he himself is weird, the people around him are normal and that gives us something to latch onto. Now imagine an entire world without normal people and instead repopulated with millions of Donnie Darkos. That’s Southland Tales, and it takes only a few minutes for it to become completely unhinged.

Wow, since I never really liked “Donnie Darko” all that much (I gave it an average rating), I guess watching a “million Donnie Darko” would be kind of, well, torturous.

Here’s Variety’s take, and it’s even more harsh:

Rarely has a picture been so self-consciously designed to be a culturally meaningful touchstone, and fallen so woefully short, as “Southland Tales.” A pretentious, overreaching, fatally unfocused fantasy about American fascism, radical rebellion, nuclear terrorism and apocalypse set two years hence, sprawling pic boasts 10 producers, clearly none of them strong enough to rein in the overweening indulgences of second-time director Richard Kelly, coming off the promising indie fave “Donnie Darko.”

Rotten Tomatoes currently has the movie rated at 38%, with 3 mainstream critics in favor of the movie, and 5 against. The best negative review comes from Killer Movie Reviews, who calls the film:

…pointless, rambling, and irritating. A monumental mess pretending to be astute, it trivializes its politics, its actors, its audience, and cinema as a whole.

The common theme among all these negative reviews? “Southland Tales” is one pretentious piece of shit.

But not everyone hated it.

The guys over at Cinematical seemed to dig it:

Southland Tales is not an easy movie to watch or to like. It’s not hard to see why it’s often accused of being self-indulgent and messy. But I would rather see filmmakers (and studios) taking risks with films like this than have to sit through more Hollywood cookie-cutter sequels and remakes.

And Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly just couldn’t shake it:

Southland Tales has a mood unlike anything I’ve seen: dread that morphs into kitsch and then back again. It’s a film that tried my patience, and one I couldn’t shake off.

And the common theme among the semi-positive reviews? It was new, it was different, and at the end of the day, they’d rather watch something different than something, well, good.