Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lady in the Water

A recurring difficulty that critics have faced when trying to review films by M. Night Shyamalan is to describe the movie's quality and purpose without giving away his patented plot twist. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village all, with varying degrees of success, contained a surprise that made everything you saw in the movie up until that point take on a whole new meaning.

This "Shyamalan Twist" can pose a problem for audiences as well. People are tempted to spend more time trying to "figure it out" than enjoying the story as it unfolds.

If this is your worry, you can go see Shyamalan's latest offering, Lady in the Water with your mind at ease. There is no plot twist, per se.

That being said, is the film worth going to see, in its own right?

Despite some obvious flaws and a
negative reception from most critics, I think I will have to say that yes, it is. But only if you are willing to accept a major qualifier.

You must, no matter what, be willing to view the film as a pure whimsical fantasy. It is billed as "a bedtime story from M. Night Shyamalan" in many of the posters. That is exactly what it is. See it with a desire to escape, or do not see it at all.

Once you accept this, it is up to you whether or not it is a good, average, or poor fantasy/fairy tale. But if you do not go into the movie with at least that much of an assumption, I can almost guarantee that you will not like it, because of many inconsistencies or flaws.

Some of these flaws are perhaps inherent to the fantasy/bed time story genre.

For example, more than once, characters without a whole lot of background tend to show up at just the right time, simply because they need to be there. Once there, many characters tend to accept the more fanciful aspects of their situation without a whole lot of questions or skepticism.

And of course there are the requisite creatures, magic, and what have you.

Such things bother many, if not most people. But do those same people complain that in Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack does not simply go to a physician, assuming that the huge beanstalk is a hallucination? I would think not, because Jack and the Beanstalk is accepted for the fantasy that it is. This film should be as well.

It does tend to run a little bit long and slow in some parts. It also has a few too many characters to keep track of, as well as plot points that are not really examined or discovered by the characters. At times, a bunch of knowledge shows up when it is needed. Like a kid making up a story as he goes along, and backtracking to account for an inconsistency he only just now realizes his impromptu story has.

"I forgot to mention a while ago", such a kid might say as he catches his breath. It is clear that this movie is guilty of that at certain points.

Then again even that may have been done on purpose. The tale is in fact based on real bedtime story Shymalan himself made up on the cuff for his young daughters as he was tucking them in. Maybe it is that sense of "don't think, just listen" that he is going for.

Does this concept translate onto the screen in this movie? I am still not certain. I can say that other movies with a similar conceit have done a better job of suspending my disbelief. But more ofthem have done a worse job.

So Lady in the Water is by far not his best work, and it does suffer from some mistakes. But unlike most critics I have heard review the movie, I am willing to overlook them in light of several things:

-The ensemble cast is funny. Not hilarious, but worth a few giggles.

-Paul Giamatti, as usual, is doing good things here.

-It is a large improvement over M. Night's last effort, The Village.

-Despite the weirdness, it makes far more sense than any anime related thing I have ever made the mistake of tying to watch.

-I feel that if this movie had been written and directed by an unknown, the fantasy/wonder angles of it would be more appreciated. Given that M. Night has been set on such a pedestal by some, there is going to be an air of "he blew it again", when compared to his earlier, more successful movies.

-It has a slight moral to it. Nothing we have not seen before from M.Night, but it's there.

-At least it is original in its weirdness. In a world where Hollywood makes 5 sequels, and 9 movies based on forgotten TV shows every month, the film industry could use a little something unique, even if it does have its weak spots.

Overall grade is a B-.

1 comment:

Susan Abraham said...

Ty, I'll take it that Shyamalan is back to his magic with Lady in the Water. The Village was a disappointment to me personally. I predicted the ending halfway through & felt strongly after the film that the heightened suspense most of the time in the woods was hype. I felt that I was watching a carefully structured but obvious hype, if that makes sense.
regards as always