Lady in the Water
- M. Night Shyamalan
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is a superintendent in an apartment building who is rescued by a young woman, Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), when he falls unconscious into the place’s pool. As it happens, the woman lives underwater, comes from the Blue World, and is there because she has to find a writer for whom she’ll be a source of inspiration. Cleveland and his tenants soon find out that they’re witnesses to an ancient tale come to life, and they realize they have to help Story get back to her world.
How crazy did that sound? I know, and that’s just the beginning. Shyamalan wrote the movie based on a bedtime story he used to tell his daughters. He wrote it as a mixture between reality and fantasy; and you have to be able to let go and believe in what you’re seeing to enjoy and understand the movie. Believe, that’s the keyword here, one that encompasses a lot of what you’ll take from this tale. Shyamalan also invents words. Story is a narf, she is being watched over by a scrunt, and the tartutic are supposed to stop it from making harm. What? Don’t worry, the movie begins with an animated prologue that sort of puts the pieces in the table and then we’re off to the adventure…
The movie’s first 20 to 30 minutes are uneven. I was intrigued by the events and characters, but the pace felt off and there were a lot of weird camera movements and out-of-focus takes that were distracting. After that the movie seems to find its stride and all’s well and done till the end. It only boasts one other out-of-place moment and that’s when Mr. Farber the critic (Bob Balaban) comes face to face with the scrunt. It’s funny, but it belongs somewhere else. And since we’re addressing the bad, I also have to say that there’s way too much exposition regarding the ancient tale that Young Soon (Cindy Cheung) and her mother (June Kyoto Lu) tell Cleveland. The mother-daughter interaction is hilarious and their scenes are some of my favorites, but ironically, I also think Shyamalan should’ve found a more seamless way for Cleveland to hear about the tale. It feels as if every now and then Young Soon comes into the frame to explain what’s going to happen next and it proves to be too talky.
Those quibbles are put aside by what’s really important. Shyamalan is doing an epic movie that doesn’t feel like one. He’s also doing a mainstream flick that feels arty. And he’s trying to say a lot of things while also making an entertaining experience out of it. I specifically loved three aspects of the journey we take. First, there’s the fascinating way in which we watch a fairy tale come to life in front of our eyes. We’re not only hearing about it, but the movie itself becomes a fairy tale as the characters start to believe and get involved in it. That’s where the next important issue comes in. The director loves faith as a theme for his movies, and here it comes loud and clear in a beautiful way. Everybody could’ve just given up, but they want to believe, they need to believe, they need to feel that they’re part of something bigger, that life has a meaning. Cleveland in particular is desperate to let go, to confront his fears. And his journey culminates in a very emotional way. And finally there’s my favorite thing about the movie: how it shows that every human being is destined for something. You may think you know what it is, but you might be wrong and find about it the hard way; you may find about it at an early age or maybe when you’re old. Truth is, everybody has a purpose and a place in the bigger picture, and when you realize it you’ll see life through a brand new spectrum.
It also helps that the movie is very funny. Shyamalan has a weird sense of humor, and his characters are all unique individuals, which makes the ride more unpredictable but also a lot more fun. Sure, there are some pretentious snippets here and there, but they didn’t bother me. I laughed, I cried, I was involved. It really is a rousing experience.
Paul Giamatti proves he can be a leading man as much as any superstar out there. He’s excellent and embodies his character with panache. Bryce Dallas Howard is required to look scared and be quiet most of the time, something that she does well enough. Supporting players include Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, Freddy Rodriguez, Cindy Cheung, Sarita Choudhury, Bill Irwin, Mary Beth Hurt, Noah Gray-Cabey and M. Night himself. They all do outstanding work, especially Chung and Choudhury.
Chris Doyle’s exquisite cinematography and James Newton Howard’s inspiring score only add to the high level of quality all around.
“Mr. Heep, it’s time we show them that some stories are real!”
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Other reviews of Lady in the Water (2006): Groucho
Lady in the Water
- M. Night Shyamalan
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Quite frankly, I have no idea how much my expectations or lack of them affected the experience. I hate to think that expectations affect anyone’s appreciation of a film, especially that of a guy who claims to be a movie critic. Truth is I walked into the movie theater not knowing what to expect. Even though I had heard a lot of controversy concerning Shyamalan’s latest, I was careful not to hear any specifics. I think I was lucky to do so. As the story progressed I kept liking it, and even though I was as aware as everyone else of its farfetchedness and flaws, I didn’t mind them that much. I liked some of its farfetchedness and flaws. I’m just… one of the very few, I guess.
The film’s introduction is a sort of fairytale that states that in the past humans related to narfs, people from the sea who guided them and advised them, until man stopped listening. Currently, some young narfs are sent to enlighten certain human beings for the world’s wellbeing, but there are terrible beasts called scrunts which are meant to stop every narf.
This is the story of a melancholy superintendent called Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) and the narf that appeared in the pool of the apartment complex where he works. The girl’s name is Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), and her mission is to meet one of the people in the building. Who it is and how to meet that person before the scrunt gets to her becomes Cleveland’s mission. As it turns out, several people in the apartment building play roles from a bedtime story, but don’t know it yet. It’s Mr. Heep’s job to find every piece and help Story accomplish her mission and escape before it’s too late. Perhaps not unexpectedly, this is also a quest where Mr. Heep shall battle his inner demons.
Without a care in the world, Shyamalan develops the story by presenting us with a lot of tenants before getting to anything important. This could be unpleasant if the people weren’t actually likable, or their interaction with Cleveland actually funny. Mr. Dury (Jeffrey Wright) is an expert crossword solver, Mr. Farber (Bob Balaban) a harsh movie critic, Reggie (Freddy Rodríguez) a peculiar body builder, Young Soon (Cindy Cheung) an intelligent young woman, Vick (M. Night Shyamalan) a young writer, etc.
As Cleveland puts the pieces together we witness a fairytale develop in front of our eyes, in a modern setting, and it’s a delectable thing. Matter of fact, it’s necessary to go with it if one’s willing to enjoy it at least one bit. Finding its flaws or viewing it with cynical eyes will mar the experience for sure. The film demands a large amount of suspension of disbelief and I was happy to grant it. Luckily, it paid off for me, and I ended up totally moved.
The problem with Shyamalan, some say, is his narcissism. He has come to believe he’s some sort of master of his domain, or even something greater than that, and he comes to show it here. First, he has cast himself as what he surely would like to be—or probably believes he is—, and that’s so cocky it’s unbearable. Second, a key character in his little world is a movie critic who’s bitter, lonely and sad, someone incapable of finding magic anywhere.
Regarding the first, I laughed at Shyamalan rather than feeling angry at him. His character fits into the story and he’s not a bad actor, so whether he’s arrogant or not didn’t concern me much. In the bar of narcissistic filmmakers, he’s just a beginner when compared to George Lucas, and his films are better than the latter’s latest. So… who cares if he thinks his writings will save the world? Let him drift in his crazed imagination, as long as he entertains.
Second, the film critic (Balaban) can only insult those that are like him. I’m like him sometimes, yes, but I can also be a sentimental dreamer. If a film deserves a trashing, I’m happy to give it, and I’m happy that I’m happy to give it. If a film deserves praise, no one’s happier than me to give it away like there’s no end to it. The existence of Mr. Farber’s character shows Shyamalan’s arrogance in that he doesn’t care that critics trash his movies. Well… sorry for him; he’ll find out the hard way that he’s wrong. Me? I had fun with Mr. Farber, and Bob Balaban is one of the best performers in here.
Performances are top-notch, in fact. Giamatti is excellent, Howard quite compelling (and pretty!), and the rest are solid.
I can understand that those who didn’t buy this movie were dying towards the end, but I was happy with the proceedings so I really enjoyed the finale. It reminded me of some of the best moments from Unbreakable (2000).
The direction is overdone, annoying at times, but Christopher Doyle’s cinematography and James Newton Howard’s music remind us that Shyamalan can still put together a decent film experience. Let’s hope that he gets back into the right track. I still see a lot of talent worth taking chances for…
“When I saw your faces, they reminded me of God...”
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Other reviews of Lady in the Water (2006): Morris