Sunday, December 31, 2006


Lady in the WaterPaul Giamatti Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Paul Giamatti
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



What makes a movie watchable? Mostly it’s good acting, a good screenplay, and a story that has emotional weight. So it is most strange to see the many harsh reviews of this film which I’m sure kept ticket-buyers away from the theater when professionals started pummeling LADY IN THE WATER.

Entertainment Weekly said, "[It is] Shyamalan’s most alienating and self-absorbed project to date" (as if that has anything to do with the story being told). The Philadelphia Enquirer called it, "...extremely silly." And the New York Observer said, "Hollywood cannot pollute the ozone with anything more idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental than Lady in the Water."


No wonder so few went to see it after reading things like that. I know I shied away specifically because of them. But I’d also seen a few positive reviews. Nothing big, really. I attributed most of these to Shyamalan die-hards who’d love anything put out by him regardless of subject matter. That wasn’t the only thing that kept me away from the theater, though. Having fell in love with The Sixth Sense (like 99% of the rest of you), I sludged through Unbreakable, Signs, and then The Village. None of them were stellar and they lacked that umpf! we’d come to expect from M. Night. So having invested money and time in many of his previous works, I was extremely hesitant to spend more of either on something that many "respected" reviewers found, to say the least, tepid.

So when I plopped in the DVD this week and started watching Lady in the Water, I was prepared for the worst. Surprisingly, that’s not what I found.

If films are supposed to be about entertainment, then Lady in the Water most certainly meets that challenge. Not only that, but I found
Paul Giamatti’s performance to be outstanding. Not since Sideways had I enjoyed a Giamatti film so much. He, in fact, carried most of the movie with his excellent portrayal of Cleveland Heep, an apartment manager who one night finds a narf (a water creature) swimming in the compound’s pool. The narf is named Story and is played by Bryce Dallas Howard (the blind girl from M. Night’s The Village). The movie delves deep into Fairytale-Land and plants the audience firmly in its belief structure. The fact that Story has shown herself to Cleveland is very important in the film, and it shows us that this is something special. Cleveland is given the opportunity to heal himself through Story’s visit, and in the process bring together everyone in the apartment complex. All of the people within the apartment building have been drawn here for this one event: to see a narf safely on her way to becoming a segue between the blue world (i.e., the narfs) and the human one.

The quirky, quaint, and scarey intermingle here as we see a movie reviewer monologuing during a funny yet frightening scene, watch Cleveland come to terms with the death of his family from years before, and witness the battle between humps of grass that come to life with razor sharp teeth and threaten to destroy Story.

The heart-wrenching scene between Cleveland, the apartment building’s occupants, and the mortally wounded Story has such impact as to cause most watchers to reach for the tissue box.

The ending is extremely satisfying and filmed perfectly. When Story has to leave, she does so in fairytale fashion.

This is a great story. My only regret now is that I didn’t see it in the theater. I’m sure the sound and scenery were even better on the big screen.

I also have to wonder about Warner Brothers and the "falling out" that they had with M. Night over the film during production. Budget, screenplay and time constraints weighed heavy on all of the parties involved and I think this may have had an impact on reviewers and how the film was marketed. Are some reviewers leery of praising a film from a large studio when that studio has problems with a director/writer? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But the negative reviews of the film seem far out of proportion with what I watched.

Lady in the Water was well acted, had a decent screenplay, and told a great story. I’m glad I saw it.

Click here for the Lady in the Water movie trailer!


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