The Sea of Trees

The Sea of Trees ★★½


I am going to spoil the shit out of this movie below, so beware.

Online scores and the seemingly unanimous user/critic backlash - alongside a rapturous booing at Cannes - would have you prepared for The Worst Film of All Time, which this assuredly is not. It’s not a particularly good film, either, because the world doesn’t need another M. Night Shyamalan. Not a bash on the dude, but he’s got this pseudo-brand of ‘last-minute-hairbrained-rug-pull-never-saw-it-coming-ethereal-twist’ cinema more or less locked down, and if anyone were to replicate it, Van Sant surely ain’t the guy to do it - Exhibit A, right here - because he brings along too much of a forced sentimentality, trying desperately to wring out the tear ducts that remained full after films like GOOD WILL HUNTING and MILK. Never too keen on unwarranted sardonicism, but the two-fold tragedy here tasted like recklessly dramatic sadism, to the point where its intended effect (sadness) is usurped by incredulity. Especially when you consider the fact that we already know Joan dies thanks to the clunky narrative surgery, so when her brain mass has been cleared of malignancy and she’s gleefully talking to Arthur from the back of an ambulance, it’s nearly impossible not to guess what’s about to happen (aided by the relentless shots cutting back to the ambulance driving ahead of Arthur’s car). The foreshadowing for Watanabe’s spectral stand-in is even clumsier; his entire repertoire consists of repeating a few of Joan’s lines verbatim, dropping enigmatic quasi-intellectualism that (as you’ll see) directly pertains to the twist, or vomiting spats of random groaning and mumbling. The revelation becomes predictable around the halfway mark, and it’s cloying enough to give Mike Mills a cavity. But there’s one astronomically redeeming factor that rectifies what would otherwise be a sub-30 film for me—McConaughey and Watts are nothing short of phenomenal in their past-tense relationship, going for broke with that little they’re given and striking gold almost every single time. When Arthur meekly recounts his meaningless affair to Takumi, I couldn’t stop my ribcage from swelling uncontrollably. Stuff like that, or e.g. their awkward dinner table argument in front of friends, highlights the imperfections of a marriage that accumulate and vandalize happiness until suddenly it’s too late. Almost makes me want to give the saccharine ending a bit of credit…but man, it’s pure honey.

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