Lady in the Water review by The Grim Ringler

While I am no apologist for director M. Night Shyamalan I am a fan of the man’s work. He can be as weird and eccentric as he wants, just so long as he delivers good films. So far, I have liked what I have seen, even seeing some great ideas in the disappointing The Village. The thing that seems to have alienated Shyamalan from the average viewer, and his fans, is that he gets too clever for his own good. He buys into his own hype. And really, he is developing a bad habit of pulling the rug out from under his own movies. So, I have to tell you, I wasn’t terribly excited to see Lady in the Water and really ended up seeing it because my expectations had fallen to none and the heat was such that, for five bucks, I figured I had nothing to lose in seeing the movie.

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti, being brilliant as usual) is a man in exile. Hiding a past he doesn’t want to face, he is the manager of a quirky apartment complex called The Cove, where such a thing as normalcy is unheard of. When someone starts swimming in the complex’s pool late at night Cleveland decides to put a stop to it and to make sure no one gets hurt. Unfortunately for Cleveland it’s he that gets hurt as, while looking for his prowler, he slips on the wet cement, knocks his noggin, and falls unconscious into the pool. When Cleveland wakes up he has a heck of a headache and a strange, naked young woman sitting in his bedroom, watching him. It seems it was she that saved him from drowning and she that had been the late night swimmer. Deciding that, since the woman saved his life and all, he’ll let her go on her way, Cleveland tries to rid himself of the stranger and the awkward situation her appearance, and her nudity. The thing is, the girl, Story (played very well by Bryce Dallas Howard), doesn’t want to leave. She is afraid of something outside and, when Cleveland gets a glimpse of it (something like a wolf but much, much bigger), he can see why she’s concerned. Cleveland decides that it might be best the girl, a sweet, and mysterious thing, stay with him for a bit. As the two get to know one another over the course of a day their mysteries are slowly revealed and both begin to realize there is much more to them than meets the eye. But it is Story whose secret is the one that dangerous and mesmerizing. It is Story who might change the fates of not just Cleveland, not just the tenants of The Cove, but of the entire world. Just as she has arrived though, so too has her enemy, the creature that lurks unseen in the wild woods that surround The Cove, and unless Cleveland can figure out all of Story’s secrets and how he can protect and save her, she may never be able to complete what it is she came to do.

There is a lot more going on here than just what I said but I think some of the magic of the films of Shyamalan is that you don’t always know what you’re walking in to see. Is this a horror film? A fantasy film? A drama? Finding out is part of the fun. I will say this, there is no giant twist to get in the way for anyone. Personally, I liked the twists, but after you know them it takes something from the experience of the film. What we have here is a wonderfully crafted mythology that is held together by Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard. Truly, all the actors here are good, and it’s they that hold things together when the film gets the most far-fetched and fantastical, but you buy into it because of the leads. They’re fantastic. I’ll even go so far as to defend Shyamalan’s decision to play an integral character in the film. I had first thought – god, what an arrogant bastard – but having seen the movie, realized that 1. he probably played the part because it IS so important and that if you don’t hit the right tone then the character’s journey is moot 2. he’s not a bad actor at all. The film is well shot, and captures the unease Story feels at having arrived at such a beautiful but dangerous place. And I have to say that I still love the way the man brings things together in a film. He doesn’t give you every last detail, and he doesn’t always show you the ‘money shot’ or the climactic shots because the characters can’t always see for themselves, and we’re going on their journey, not our own. What I loved most about the film is that it played fair. It wasn’t a cheat like The Village felt like, and there is nothing done to take away from what he’s done with the film. Hell, I loved that it made me recall seeing The Secret of Nimh and The Dark Crystal in the theater so long ago. The music, the editing, the filming all work very well together and create a beautiful film and, whether people like it or not, the man shoots damned good movies. Hell, I even loved the message that there is a purpose for everyone but that we need someone or something to help us achieve that purpose. It’s refreshing to see such a hopeful film in a landscape of cynicism.

A lot of people are going to tune right the hell out though when they get an idea of what’s going on, and I can see that. This is a fantastic film, in essence a fairy tale, and as such, the same logic you put on other films doesn’t work. You can’t expect the same things, the same reactions or you are going to hate this film. But then a lot of people will hate it no matter what, because they just want to hate it. There is definitely one criticism that Shyamalan can’t shirk though and that’s the inclusion of the film and arts critic. He’s a pompous ass and seems to be little more than the director taking his frustration out on film critics and that’s just jackassy. The character isn’t entirely awful, but the writing for him and character arc are the sorts of things I’d expect from a lesser director. I can live with this because I liked the film, but if you take that element out and you have a near great film. Really though, your interest in the film will hinge on your expectations. If you are not looking for the film equivalent to a bedtime story, then yeah, this movie ain’t for you, and I can totally understand why.

It’s a shame that this director has so much baggage because of his personal life and his quirks because he’s one of the most talented storytellers Hollywood has. As I said, Lady in the Water really took me back to my days as a kid and being filled with wonder at the movies. This movie did that for me again. It ain’t perfect, not by half, but it’s captivating, and presents a rich, mythology laden world that comes alive with the acting of the brilliant Giamatti. Without his sincere performance and his damaged character the house of cards falls apart. Lucky for us, he nails the performance and Shyamalan has another quirky hit on his hands.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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