' ' Cinema Romantico: Lady in the Water

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lady in the Water

It was fairly hard to avoid the negative buzz surrounding M. Night Shyamalan's new film "The Lady in Water". I attempt to avoid reading reviews of movies I want to see by any means necessary, and I did succeed. Even so, I still knew it was getting wretched reviews and that Shyamalan was being referred to as some type of ego-maniac who had gone off the deep end. He originally took the idea for this movie - which he based upon a bedtime story he used to tell his daughter - to Disney (which had produced all his previous films) only to have them shun it. He then left Disney, went to a different company and had an author chronicle all these details as well as the making of his new movie.

After viewing it yesterday I can certainly see why Disney would be so quick to balk. "The Lady in the Water" is original and certainly unconventional. Mention those words to studio executive and you'll see eyes bulge and panic attacks set in. So perhaps Shyamalan burned his bridges by shunning Disney. Perhaps he is the owner of a hefty ego. I don't know, but what I do know is the movie I saw is not worthy of the beat-down it's getting.

Oh, it's not without flaws. In fact, it's got a whole of heap of 'em. But what movie doesn't? At least "The Lady in the Water" is trying to be something. That's more than you can say about most summertime "entertainment" meant for us to "escape".

The movie is essentially a fairy-tale come to life. A narf (apparently a creature that lives primarily in water, hence the title) appears in the pool of the apartment building which Cleveland (Paul Giamatti) manages. She has come to see a particular person, to lay her eyes on him, and advise him he will change the world. But once she has done this, she has issues getting home courtesy of some type of mythical beast - called a Scrunt (if memory serves) - that is out to stop her from getting home.

In order to help her get past the Scrunt and get back home Cleveland realizes he needs to fully understand the legend of the narf and then follow through in real life with the specifics of the legend. And soon he finds himself caught up in a children's fairy-tale. Personally, I found this premise very intriguing. It stays true (for the most part) to what it is and does not waver from its desire to be a children's fairy-tale. It follows that idea right through to the end, even forsaking the infamou "M. Night Shyamalan Twist".

In the most inspired sequence Cleveland needs to figure out precisely what characters would appear in the story at a particular juncture if it were, in fact, a fairy-tale (which, of course, it is). He consults the film critic who has just moved into the complex. The critic advises what stereotypes to look for in people to match the necessary characters. This concludes with a delightful scene in which a gaggle of people are gathered around a shower while one has to find key clues to the whole situation in a crosswold puzzle.

At the same time, the film critic is also the largest flaw of the whole movie. Shyamalan must not have been pleased in any capacity with the chilly reception for "The Village", his last film. The film critic is not simply the villain. I mean, Shyamalan has got it out for this character. His demise is quite brutal, if not also the most over-the-top scene. It's no wonder this movie is getting bad reviews. You show a critic in the harshest light possible and that's pretty much guaranteed to happen.

People will also read deeply into Shyamalan casting himself as the writer our heroic little narf has come to specifically to see. She has come to tell him he will finish the book he's currently attempting to write and that this book will change the world in many provocative ways. So the writer/producer/director himself is playing an apparent savior while the film critic is portrayed as the root of all the apartment complex's evil. I don't like to read into things too much but how can you not read into this?

Bryce Dallas Howard as the narf herself is a little wooden, though I don't think that's necessarily her fault. You wouldn't think the title role would be the most underwritten part but it is. However, it doesn't matter because Paul Giamatti more than picks up the slack. Oh, how good Paul Giamatti is in this. He is the rock. He grounds every absurd situation. Even when he's facing down a scrunt in the apartment lawn amidst the sprinkler system you believe it completely. His performance will be quickly forgotten and that's a shame. A damn shame. I would go so far as to say this is the best performance I've seen to this point this year. He carries it through every rough patch (and there's a lot of those). Even though Shyamalan chooses to saddle the character with a stutter (the most ancient of all character tics) Giamatti still sells it. I pray he's not forgotten come Oscar time, but he will be.

I know this probably does not come across as a glowing review even though I've indicated I liked the movie. It's not a great movie - far from it, actually. I don't even know that I'd call it good. Maybe I'll say it's sort of good. But, damn it, I always respect a movie that makes an effort and doesn't just set itself to cruise control and wait for the box office returns. And the "The Lady in the Water" makes an effort to be something besides being exactly what I expected. Therefore, I congratulate it.


Anonymous said...

From the author of "Darth Vader is Luke's Father" and "Rosebud the Sled" comes this review of "Lady in the Water." Spoiler alert, indeed....

Anonymous said...

Note: I have given away nothing here that has not been given away in any other review I've read of said movie. In fact, I give away much less than the Chicago Sun Times review. So if you still have any desire to see this movie, fear not, this is merely a tip on a large iceberg.