Lady in the Water
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr M Night Shyamalan
with Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, M Night Shyamalan, Sarita Choudhury, Cindy Cheung, Freddy Rodríguez, Bill Irwin, Mary Beth Hurt, Jared Harris, Noah Gray-Cabey
release US 21.Jul.06, UK 11.Aug.06
06/US Warner 1h50

Rescue me: Howard and Giamatti

wright balaban shyamalan

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Lady in the Water Shyamalan is back with another supernatural fable, this time based on a story he made up for his daughters. It's beautifully made and thoroughly intriguing, but it feels made up as it goes along, which makes it both convoluted and self-important.

Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) is an apartment complex caretaker who discovers a young woman named Story (Howard) in the swimming pool. Turns out she's a water nymph on a mission, so he sets out to help her, drawing in the building's residents one by one--puzzle fanatic (Wright), film critic (Balaban), writer (Shyamalan), chatty tramp (Cheung), comical musclehead (Rodriguez), historian (Irwin), cat lady (Hurt) and pothead (Harris). But a snarling grass-wolf is trying to keep Story from finishing her job, and Cleveland might be getting everything wrong.

While the plot is fascinating, it's also badly underdeveloped, never establishing any logic for Story's world. Shyamalan clearly refused to refine what he continually refers to (in the dialog) as a "bedtime story". As a result it feels corny and pretentious as new elements of the mythology are introduced every few minutes (it's handy that an expert on the legend also lives in the building), and the creatures have both silly names and ill-defined motives. Narfs, tartutic and scrunts, oh my!

But while he injects snappy wit and keeps production levels high (except for some dodgy effects), Shyamalan unfurls the narrative with an unbearable seriousness that continually swirls back into itself and then has the nerve to poke fun at those who criticise such ill-formed storylines. All of the characters are defined merely by one or two quirks; one actually snarls something about how arrogant it all is, while another says, "You have to believe that this all makes sense somehow."

Fortunately, the cast is good enough to carry us through the uneven tale. Giamatti is especially wonderful, creating a terrific character we can identify with--heavy baggage with a yearning for redemption. His development is purely due to Giamatti's layered performance. While the only character with a fully formed story (beginning, middle and end) is Shyamalan's. Which kind of betrays the film as pure indulgence.

cert PG themes, suspense 31.Jul.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Lady in the Water Donna R Carter, Wisconsin: "I really enjoyed this movie! It had all the expected plot lines and was following along the usual formula, and then proceeded (to my delight) to tear them apart and rework them and even point out how ridiculous it was to think everything worked as easily as an obvious formula. The story was intriguing, and I liked the characters (okay, well, I liked the ones you were supposed to like). It had funny moments, and scary moments (even when you were ready for them). I thought it was unique, and that made me like it even more." (21.Aug.06)
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall