Movie Review: Lady in the Water

>When I saw the early trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, Lady in the Water, it appeared to be about a lonely superintendent who finds a mysterious woman-like creature in the pool, like a mermaid or something. As the release of the movie approached, it turned out that she was from a strange place far away and was being chased by these wolf-like creatures and for some reason, she needed the superintendent’s help. It turns out, the actual movie is much less interesting than either of these ideas.

Lady in the Water is about an apartment’s superintendent named Cleveland Heep, played by Paul Giamatti (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, Sideways), who discovers a lady in the swimming pool named Story, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Village, Ron Howard’s daughter). She turns out to be a creature from the ocean that has come to find her human connection and then to return home. It becomes Cleveland’s task to figure out whom she needs to connect with and how to help her return home.

M. Night Shyamalan has built himself a name as a storyteller who weaves an intricate web of story elements that ultimately come together to provide his audience with a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, he apparently knows this, and is inclined to not only repeat the pattern in this movie, but also to talk to the audience about it as events unfold. In fact there’s so much talking in this movie that it totally saps away any mystery or suspense.

Usually I go to a movie hoping to be immersed in the imaginary world being portrayed on the big screen. I’ve never seen a movie that removed me from that experience more than this one did. From the opening prologue which totally took away any mystery about who she was, and on throughout the rest of the film, words like “contrived” and “convoluted” kept coming to my mind. The story seemed to meander along hoping to be linked together by the reciting of a bedtime story that was, coincidentally, exactly what was occurring. Instead of finding an interesting way of showing us what was going on, M. Night resorted to telling us. That might have worked in a book, but not in a movie.

Another thing that brought me out of this movie-watching experience was the fact that M. Night himself, who has usually played very small cameos in his movies, took on the role of a character who is a writer. This was such a significant part that I couldn’t help but be reminded that he is a writer also, and so he must be making statements about his own importance to the world through this part he was playing in his movie. This wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much were another actor playing the part, but for some reason he felt he needed to do it and I couldn’t help questioning his motives.

I’m afraid I can’t recommend this movie. I was hoping for something that might be a departure from his usual formula, not a dissertation on what makes his movies what they are. Instead I would recommend watching 1948’s Mr Peabody and the Mermaid, a comedy about a man who actually finds a mermaid in his swimming pool; or 1994’s The Secret of Roan Inish, a drama about a young girl who discovers an ancestor of hers married a selkie—a seal who can turn into a human. I think a cross between these two films is what I was hoping for, anyway.

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