Filed from Cannes on 5.15.15: “Gus Van Sant‘s The Sea of Trees “was initially greeted with one or two souls applauding, but this was immediately followed by a chorus of boos, loud and sustained for a good five or six seconds. I wasn’t feeling the hate as much as lethargy and disappointment, which began to manifest fairly early. I was getting the wrong vibes even before it started due to the word ‘The’ in the title. That in itself told me plenty.
“The symphonic, rotely soothing score by Mason Bates (i.e., the kind of music that tells the audience ‘you’ll be okay…this is a film about caring and compassion…no rude shocks in store’) told me right away that Trees would be one of Van Sant’s Finding Forrester-like films — an initially solemn, ultimately feel-good drama about ‘redemption’ and rediscovering the joy and necessity of embracing the struggle rather than dying by your own hand blah blah.
“It’s not ineptly made or anything. It starts smoothly and delivers what most of us would call professional-level chops along with an emotionally earnest lead performance from Matthew McConaughey as a Massachucetts high-school teacher and widower looking to commit suicide under the shade of Japan’s Aokigahara forest. But Chris Sparling‘s screenplay jerks the manipulation chain once or twice too often, and the general scheme of the thing just felt tired and pat to me.
“Some were complaining that only McConaughey’s woes seem to matter to Van Sant with scant attention paid to the anguish of Ken Watanabe‘s character, whom McConaughey encounters in the suicide forest and whose life he tries to save all through. This observation isn’t quite true because as there’s a third-act twist…forget it.”