How does one even begin to approach a film as silly, boring, and self-indulgent as M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water? Considering the current trend is to bash Shyamalan mercilessly (a surprising number of people just can’t seem to get over The Village), I have no shame whatsoever in saying that I have a lot of respect for him. His first three mainstream films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs) are all fantastic, while the aforementioned The Village did stutter-step around a bit too much in its goofiness. With Lady, it appears as though Shyamalan has completely jumped ship into a pit of ego-centrism, and it ain’t pretty.
I have seen three trailers for Lady in the Water. One has it billed as a suspense film, one as a drama, and one as a horror flick. When it takes that many angles to advertise a film, the odds are something is wrong – and there is. If anything, Lady in the Water is a comedy. That Shyamalan expects anyone to get involved in this “bedtime story” is the funniest part of all, as the story’s incomprehensibility overrides any of the signature Shyamalan moves on display (namely wonderful use of sound and effective cinematography). Perhaps he shouldn’t have written himself such a big part.
Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) is the superintendent at The Cove apartment complex. His job calls for nothing more than maintenance and repairs, but a repeated disturbance in the community pool has made his job a bit more interesting. One night he ends up rescuing Story (Howard), whom he thinks is a misplaced pretty little thing. And misplaced she is, as she is actually a character from a bedtime story who is trying to find her way home (she comes from “the blue”). Cleveland feels he has no choice but to help her, and the effort soon involves many of the tenants of The Cove.
One cannot fault the moral of the story, which is that with friendly community involvement we can seemingly accomplish the impossible, and even that which we don’t understand. The problem is that to arrive at that conclusion, one has to muddy themselves by trampling through Shyamalan’s display of shocking pompousness. In the film he plays a struggling writer who finds out that, long after he is dead, his stories will have a profound effect on millions of people. For the love of Pete! On top of that, he has his film/book critic character, Farber (Balaban), ripped to shreds by a dog – presumably in reaction to the nasty reviews he received for The Village. This may infuriate bow tie-wearing critics out there, but not me. I was angry because he was the best character in the film.
Paul Giamatti can lift any film up a few notches, and he does here as the stuttering, good-hearted Cleveland. Giamatti is uncannily skilled at both drama and comedy, making his presence a welcome one. Bryce Dallas Howard’s only purpose is to sit in a shower and act like some type of alien being. I guess that would qualify as underused, especially considering she does have some acting prowess. The supporting cast does a great job of delivering the inane dialogue, particularly Jeffrey Wright as Dury and Bob Balaban as Farber.
It has been a summer of mis-marketed, over-hyped, lousy films, and in that respect Lady in the Water fits right in. Anyone whose interest is peaked by any of the trailers will be let down, as Shyamalan opts for silly melodramatic sequences, questionable comedy, and cheap jump “scares” instead of believable dialogue and any sense of urgency. We know that Shyamalan is a good, sometimes great, filmmaker, but as long as he keeps pre-occupying himself (and his movies) with what the critics think, we’re in for many more disappointments.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 110 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some frightening sequences.
Theatrical Release: July 21, 2006
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Sarita Choudhury, Cindy Cheung