Just so you know in advance I am a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. Note I did not say big fan, and this is for a reason, I do think he has had some misses. Unbreakable, to me, was horrible. I was also mixed on The Village and think Night’s movies have had a noticeable decline ever since the massive success of The Sixth Sense.
That said, I am happy to say that after seeing Lady in the Water I am fully back in M. Night’s camp. However, I don’t think the rest of the movie going audience is going to agree. For that matter I am not even sure most of the movie going audience is going to give it a chance.
Before going into the film I had already heard my share of “Girl in the Pool” comments. I was getting the feeling people were ready to mock this film before they even saw it, and at the same time they weren’t even going to give it a chance. Where the catch phrase “From the director of The Sixth Sense” used to mean something I was now getting the impression people just don’t care. It was a case of “What have you done for me lately?”
Lady in the Water is certainly not a film for everyone as it takes a vast amount of imagination. You have to go in with a blank slate and cast your feelings and initial impressions aside. This IS a bedtime story and that is no joke. It is described in its marketing as a bedtime story and that is what it is. This is a hard idea to grasp and it seems not a lot of people understand what that means. You may want to think of the Tooth Fairy and then try to imagine the world she comes from and what she might do with those teeth once she collects them. Of course we all know the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, but this is not reality, this is the movies… anything can be real in the movies as long as you let your imagination guide the way. The story itself is absurd, as any bedtime story is, but it is Night’s masterful way of telling this story and the cast that he has chosen to tell it that makes it so special, and special really is the best way to describe it.
Including such characters known as Narfs (or sea nymphs), Scrunts (a fierce hyena-like creature), The Tartutic, The Guild and so on, this film demands you have an imagination because without it you will be lost and simply left to stare blankly at the movie screen. Provided you are willing to let yourself get swept away in the story Lady in the Water takes you to a special place where movies don’t often go.
At the center of the whole thing is Story, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, played impeccably by Howard I should say. Bryce proved in M. Night’s The Village that she had acting chops as she was really the only truly good thing about that film and she manages to pull off just as accomplished of a performance here, especially considering the limited amount of lines she is given.
Story is a Narf, a creature of the sea, and her destiny leads her to the pool of the Cove apartment complex. When I say it is her destiny to be there it truly is, just as it is the destiny of a select group of tenants that live in the complex as they all play a part in her “mission.” Story’s mission depends on the variety of talents the group provides in the effort to help her get home.
Story is discovered by apartment manager Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti) and he becomes the guiding force into getting Story back where she belongs all while accomplishing what she came to do. As a Narf she has an inexplicable power as Cleveland soon learns when his stuttering ceases anytime he is around her. Giamatti is a huge reason this movie works and there are several scenes in which his character reashes out and pulls at your emotional core. If you allow yourself to believe you may be wiping tears from your eyes in the final moments of the film while laughing at several others.
Even though I am singing this film such high praises there are aspects that certainly will be hard to overlook. The absurdity of the story is one, if you can’t get passed that then I give up, but if you can your second bump in the road is going to be the dialogue. Without Paul Giamatti or Bryce Dallas Howard I am not sure this film could succeed on any level, the dialogue is so weak it takes all of these actors’ might to deliver them in a way that doesn’t have the audience rolling in the aisles. Where the dialogue is weak however, it is traditionally accompanied by something that quickly makes you forget, and most often that is a quick scare. I can’t tell you how many times the freaking sprinklers made me jump.
Overall, I left the theater loving this film, in fact I wouldn’t have minded it if they had started it over and I watched it all again. As a bedtime story it succeeds on every level, I felt like a little kid asking mommy just to read it one more time. Saying this, I know I am going to be in the minority, but I hope this film manages to find an audience somewhere because this is a ballsy picture. The best thing about Night, love him or hate him, he definitely brings something different and let’s face it, different is something Hollywood needs.