Man, I'm not afraid to tell you that I was waiting to see Southland Tales for a lo-o-ong time. As one of the many people who fell head over heels in love with Donnie Darko, when I heard that Richard Kelly's second movie was going to be a crazy ensemble piece about the end of the world, starring The Rock, Sean William Scott and Sarah Michelle Gellar, that would be prefaced by three graphic novels I was 100%-no-refunds sold.
Then it got mauled at Cannes, scaled back, recieved what might charitably be called "mixed reviews" and most people seem to think that Kelly pretty much blew it. The only review I've read of his latest one has been bad too.
Well, y'know. I finally picked up the DVD for cheap when I was back in England and finally sat down with it this week. And of course it's awesome.
I mean, it's a mess, but it's awesome.
I've read two of the three prologue graphic novels (could never seem to track down the last one, and wasn't even sure that it came out, but now I see that it has) so the insanely rushed synopsis at the start actually jogged some memories for me and then I could pick it up pretty well, but I can understand why a lot of people might not. He just tries to pack so much stuff in there, and yes, the story is told in an confusing way, but Jesus there are two strikingly different cuts of Donnie Darko and this was easier to follow than both of them. It's just that Donnie Darko was hung around a 1980s coming of age movie, it was an underdog movie, and people were lured in by that a lot I think. Southland Tales is an apocalyptic sci-fi farce (and there was far more straight comedy than I expected) starring an ex pro-wrestler, an actor known for peurile comedy, a pulp TV actress and a pop star. Unless you like the willfully eclectic (like me, and probably a lot of other people too) it's a pretty hard sell. Worth noting that I thought all the performances - and yes, a lot of the time it seemed like people were acting in entirely different movies - were perfectly pitched for this movie.
I really did love it. I kept thinking it was going to take a nose dive into the unwatchable, but it never did. The weakest point was that terrible opening, where a whole other movie was summarised in voice over and via faux news reels. In the end that stuff played out and was essential to the story, but even I've gotta admit you're asking a lot of your audience to follow that and then jump right into part four. But once it got going the way the story played out, tricky as it was, became a real strength. Kelly wasn't sloppy in telling the story, he was just asking the viewer to keep up, and that's never a bad thing.