Southland Tales


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The dystopic Southland Tales may have been the worst-received film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival. Observers said that it set a record for walk-outs, and Roger Ebert called it the greatest festival disaster since the infamous Brown Bunny.

The normally staid and verbose BBC shrugged its shoulders and declared, with terse simplicity, "It sucks."

Worst of all, the Village Voice gave the film its kiss of death: "Southland Tales actually is a visionary film about the end of times."

As I watched the film, my first reaction was, "This is what Blade Runner might have been like if it had been directed by John Waters instead of Ridley Scott." I thought that was an insult until I found that writer/director Richard Kelly was going for precisely that aesthetic. His own quote: "A strange hybrid of the sensibilities of Andy Warhol and Philip K. Dick ... It will only be a musical in a post-modern sense of the word in that it is a hybrid of several genres. There will be some dancing and singing, but it will be incorporated into the story in very logical scenarios as well as fantasy dream environments."

You may already have guessed that the film makes little sense. The size of its cast would make Tolstoy envious, and its storyline sprawls so much that the IMDb plot synopsis is 8000 words long. You can't really follow the anfractuous story at all while watching the film, and your eyes will probably still be glazed over even after reading that summary linked above, because the byzantine story contained within the film is only the final three parts of a hexology. The previous three parts are contained in comic books:

  1. Two Roads Diverge
  2. Fingerprints
  3. The Mechanicals

The story not only sprawls, but it moves freely back and forth between the possible, the improbable, the deliberately surreal,  and the just plain silly, so you can't find a door into the film since it follows neither the rules of our universe nor its own.

I was in the same boat as many of the critics in that my attention kept wandering during the film, but it wasn't so much because I didn't understand what was going on. I just didn't care. It's a labyrinth and there is no entry point. If you're befuddled by the plot, don't look for access into the film through the characters, because you can't relate to any of them, and I presume you are not supposed to, ala Dr. Strangelove. And don't look to be sympathetic with the film's point of view.  Although political and social commentary are an important part of the film's raison de etre, they are shallow and sophomoric.

And that's actually an insult to sophomores everywhere.

I think it's easy enough to describe the film. Here's how to replicate it. Take four high school students with B averages. You can't use top students, because they would have a pretty good grasp of the subtleties and nuances of geopolitics. You can't use poor students because they probably don't know where Iraq is, or why it is significant. You need the type of students who surf the internet enough to have developed a superficial and one-sided view of the world which they are convinced is the One True Faith. Ask them each to compose a short story about the future, and forbid them from discussing the project amongst themselves. Then take every single detail from all four stories and combine them into one narrative. Discard nothing, even if it seems to be irrelevant to and completely outlying from your cobbled storyline. Just try to stuff it all together somehow. Voila! The script for Southland Tales 2.

Now in order to make that into a film, hire a bunch of people who used to work on SNL. Not the top-liners, but the second-tier actors like Charles Rocket and Jan Hooks. Get other actors of the same type, the type whose idea of comic performing is to deliver lines so that everyone knows they're joking around, like Jason Kidd and Johnny Knoxville. Have your four students try to choose the right cast members for each role, then shuffle the deck around until you use none of their choices.

There you have it. The Village Voice thinks you're a genius.


* widescreen anamorphic (2.40)






2 The Guardian (of 5 stars)
1 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
2 BBC  (of 5 stars)
34 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
44 (of 100)


6.6 IMDB summary (of 10)
B- Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. It grossed $275,000 in 63 theaters. The budget has been estimated between $15 and $17  million.



  • Bai Ling showed her right breast in a down blouse.



Wikipedia article on Southland_Tales



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Ambitious, audacious, and dumber than a box full of rocks.