There's no doubt children can throw a wrench in your drug addiction. There are the incessant demands for luxuries like food, stability and love when all Papa wants to do is paaaaarty.
Gritty American indie Debra Granik and consummately surreal Terry Gilliam tackle that far-from-Mayberry problem of parents addicted to drugs in two recent forays into chemical melodrama: Down to the Bone and Tideland, respectively.
Gilliam, as per his usual, gilds -- and then poisons -- the lily in Tideland. The film is a child's-eye view of living with a pair of heroin-addicted parents who make Sid and Nancy look like self-actualized careerists.
Mama (Jennifer Tilly, in Courtney Love white lace and nasal caterwaul) is a chocolate-scarfing, bed-ridden harridan who alternates vicious insults hurled at 10-year-old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) with demands for foot massages. Daddy (Jeff Bridges) is, relatively speaking, a big comforting teddy bear, sitting back patiently while Jeliza-Rose lovingly prepares his "fix," a quaint father-daughter ritual he euphemistically describes as "daddy taking a vacation."
Like Pippi Longstocking trapped in a meth lab, Tideland descends from gross to grotesque as Jeliza-Rose tumbles down Gilliam's cinematic sewer pipe. The focus shifts early on from the drug-addicted parents to little Jeliza-Rose's acid-trip misadventures visualized through Gilliam's increasingly debauched fantasy. In Gilliam's sweaty hands, Jeliza-Rose is eerily sexualized, whether dressing up and prancing about in wigs and lipstick like some Mad Hatter Tallulah Bankhead, or seducing mentally deficient Dickens (Brendan Fletcher). Dickens and his sister Dell (Janet McTeer) have a made a Texas Chainsaw Massacre cottage industry of turning their dear dead beloveds into leather handbags.
Tideland isn't so much a portrait of childish resilience as it is riddled with directorial cluelessness; heroin addiction might be preferable to an hour and a half spent sloshing around in Gilliam's warped cranium watching a creepily carnivorous child try again and again to seduce a grown man in "quirk" pushed to the brink of sick.
Terry Gilliam took advantage of a six-month lull in completing his 2005 mediocrity, The Brothers Grimm, to make Tideland, a film whose disastrous reputation proceeds it. Tideland debuted to much rancid tongue-wagging at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival and since has proven that even lousy product can yield a distribution deal (in this case by ThinkFilm) if the auteur is well-known.
Down to the Bone, meanwhile, finally available on DVD Oct. 31, is the more-anticipated overdue release. Winner of a 2004 Sundance Director's Award and Special Jury Prize winner for star Vera Farmiga, Debra Granik's Down to the Bone played a limited run on the art-house circuit in 2005.
Shot in what looks like the coldest winter in history, Down to the Bone hones to an unrelenting realist bleakness (based on real-life events) diametrically opposite Gilliam's frilled and flocked fantasia.
The film opens with frazzled upstate New York supermarket cashier Irene (Farmiga) trying to outfit her two young sons for a night out trick-or-treating while delivering an urgent telephone request for her husband to "bring something home for me." It's a "something" that isn't the usual quart of milk but a snort of nose candy.
Mother's little helper eventually sends sad-eyed beauty Irene running for an equally grotty state-detox program where exhausted, hopeless addicts mark time before returning to their house-cleaning jobs and grim apartments. In terms of drug-addicted motherhood, Irene is a relatively noble specimen, though sometimes her maternal impulses take a vacation, as when her oldest son begs for a pet snake, and Irene quips back, "What about something we don't have to feed? Like LEGOs."
It's the kind of pricelessly surreal parcel of illogic that may spark a shudder of recognition in even mothers without a coke problem.