Reviews: Lady In The Water
A Bad Film, but not the worst I've ever seen
This movie does get quite the harsh rap, so, expecting a Nostalgia Critic Worthy nightmare of terrible filmmaking, I rented it one night and put it on, a big grin on my face as I waited for "WHAT A TWEEST!" moment that I was so eager to see. What I got instead of that was a convoluted Post Modern Magik kind of a tale, one that was convoluted and downright silly, even if the the High Concept was a promising one. This movie throws all kinds of good ideas against the wall, yet few of them stick. One Character, A Genre Savvy Critic, had the potential to be an interesting plot device in this film. He could've guided them through the story, Scream style, before meeting an ironic and unexpected death - but nope. He just gives a self-aware speech and is killed, leaving me thinking Shamylan knew he was making a mediocre film all along. That the man behind The Sixth Sense has come to this is gutting, when he has the talent for filmmaking and has lost the grip on character, plot and pretty much everything else. Another idea, this one more reprehensible, is of Shamylan himself playing a visionary, nay, prophetic writer, destined to save the world. While this idea could've worked, as in New Nightmare where Wes Craven played the self-aware writer of a story in a Horror Comedy, here it's simply Shamylan patting himself on the back. If this were a Satire, it could've worked, but the way Shamylan plays it we just feel like he's become an arrogant Jerk Ass, and it makes the movie much harder to enjoy. This movie could've benefited from a Child Protagonist in a Children's Hidden Fantasy world. The more outlandish concepts might fit in better from a Child's P.O.V., turning the movie into a Dr. Seuss-like tale of ridiculous creatures and absurdity, but Shamylan tries to play it straight, and on this level, the story is absurd. While it's never painful to watch, and sitting through it (for me anyways) made me feel apathetic at worst and in Disbelief at best ("Really? Apes with Mohawks?"), it isn't laughably bad, and it isn't Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's just a movie with many ambitions, some good ideas, and nowhere near enough focus or development to stand up to a Good Film's Standards, which Shamylan (used to) be capable of. For the worst, see The Happening or The Last Airbender. For Mediocre, well....here you are.
Simply Not Good
Let me be perfectly clear about this, I did not find this to be a good movie. I tend to try to not hold on to notions I get from others about directors and musicians and the like, and M. Night Shaylaman....Shalaman....I can't spell his name....was no different. I was inclined to believe his terribleness as a director/writer/etc. was vastly overblown. However, if this is any indication, it's not too far off the mark. The film is the story of Story, who is a Narf (they actually use this word in the movie) that is, a water nymph from "the Blue World", an underwater world that can be accessed—apparently—via a pool in a Philadelphia apartment complex. It is in this same complex that we meet our protagonist. The Dickensianly-named Cleveland Heep, who is a stuttering emotional wreck of a man. The last part (and maybe even the first) is actually justified. We find out Mr. Heep's wife and children have been dead for some time, murdered by a burglar. Heep's stuttering could've been done without, even thoug it is justified in-story. Story herself is implied to be the heroine of the whole thing, and that's the problem. It's only implied. Cleveland is the only one who really takes any heroic action. And M. Night's character, the writer Vick, comes across as self-indulgent and frankly ridiculous. He is told he will write an important book, titled—no joke—The Cookbook, a book about his thoughts on the world. Or something. We never really find out exactly what's in the book, but we know it'll inspire a future president who will change the world. All of this is mentioned only in passing, God help you if you happened to get up to go to the bathroom during this movie, because you'd never be able to figure out the plot just from the things that are overtly stated. There is a way to do this kind of plot well, but M. Night just plain doesn't pull it off, the mess of a story is half-redeemed only by a semi-interesting cast of characters. The notable exception is Mr. Farber, one of the worst offenders of the Straw Critic trope ever. Who dies a grisly death (shocking). Frankly, I had hoped Mr. Shaylaman was better than the hype had implied he was. And he's just not. This was a terrible, fantastical mess of a movie, and I'd rather not see it again.
An ambitious film marred by contrived execution and vanity
Lady In The Water is unique. It is a film aspiring to be a real-life fairy tale, with real people acting out the roles it entails and holding up narrative conventions and character archetypes as pivotal to the plot. The protagonist is interesting as a troubled man who, intimately familiar with his ragtag bunch of apartment dwellers, attempts to solve the mystery behind the titular character and eventually becomes their leader. All this is masterfully portrayed by Paul Giamatti. However, the film fails in its goal of evoking Willing Suspension Of Disbelief in the viewers, and at times even seems to be pleading for it. A bedtime story is supposedly central to the plot, yet arbitrary conditions keep being added to it to suit the main plot's contrivances. The plot itself writhes and twists uncontrollably, throwing a bunch of random red herrings at the audience while resolving just as randomly. The situations are too hokey to be believable. For example, a boy almost reliably seeing messages in cereal boxes? The film nonetheless desperately wants you to believe the contrived setup as characters Anviliciously speak of how much they want to simply believe like a child. A Snark Bait point of the movie is the presence of Mr. Farber, the Straw Critic that thinks no originality is left in the world, gets blamed for supposedly misleading the protagonist, and dies a violent death while incorrectly assessing the plot situation. Sadly, if he was used as an actual character rather than a Take That Critics, he might have improved the story with his analytical Genre Savvy nature. As it stands, he's merely the funniest character in the overwrought story. Another mocking point lies in M. Night Shyamalan casting himself as a visionary that will die for his writing in his time, but will inspire a future leader and thus change in the world. Incidentally, the film itself is really about Shyamalan himself. Besides the obvious metaphor, it's no coincidence that Willing Suspension Of Disbelief, a key component of his movies, is what this one in particular literally asks out of the audience. In the end, Lady In The Water is an attempt at originality that failed, merely looking ridiculous and self-indulgent. Regardless, you can still see shining glimpses of magic on occasion, and even if you don't, there's still the Snark Bait.