Thursday, August 25, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: LADY IN THE WATER (2006)

Hey everybody, it's been awhile since I've actively posted, but I've been working a lot on Serpent Sword, the sequel to my novel Battle for the Wastelands. However, I've still been actively participating in Myopia Movies and we're doing a month on M. Night Shyamalan's films, ranging from his high point (at least among the movies were watched) with Signs to his decline.

So here's my review of Lady in the Water, the first film of his I actually skipped due to negative reviews. Here's the episode. And let my commentary begin:

 The Plot

Long ago, humans were in contact with a civilization of mermaids known as Narfs, who provided spiritual guidance. But man grew greedy and moved inland, multiplying conflicts and wars without the mermaids' advice. As the world grew darker and more dangerous, the mermaids have taken the initiative to contact humans again, but the mermaids have their own supernatural foe, the lupine Scrunts. Into this conflict comes Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), an apartment superintendent with a stutter and a tragic past who encounters a Narf named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the complex pool one night.

But Story, and now him, are being hunted...

The Good

*I liked how Howard played Story...although she's a supernatural being, she is unfamiliar with our world and its social conventions. Hence the brutal honesty, which can be encouraging or discouraging depending on the situation, and misunderstandings like "I need to wear clothes" or "someone who looks and acts like a teen runaway strung out on drugs hanging out half-naked with a middle-aged (apparent) bachelor might give people really wrong ideas." She also helps other characters follow their dreams, but she's by no means anything remotely resembling a typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

*I also liked Giamatti's Heep. When we first meet him, he's going out of his way to introduce a newcomer to the complex to the various eccentric characters that populate the place. It would have been nice if someone had done that for me when I moved to various complexes over the years. It's also a good foreshadowing of a later reveal--in order to make that work for a complex as large as the one he manages, Heep would have to have a very good memory. And that ends up playing a major role in the story.

*A young college student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) and her mother (June Kyoto Lu) who cannot speak English play a major role in the storyline. I liked their dynamic--a strict Asian-born "tiger mother" and her more free-spirited Americanized daughter--and the fact Young-Soon has to be her mother's translator in her dealings with Heep is pretty funny.

*Sarita Choudhury is having a lot of fun as Anna Ran, part of the brother-sister duo with her writer brother Vick (Shyamalan himself). I liked her performance.

*One of the new residents of the complex is a movie critic who has some about the state of storytelling and the film industry. I thought that was pretty funny.

*In an age of remakes, legacy sequels, etc. a film with a completely original plot (it's based on a bedtime story Shyamalan told his children) is pretty refreshing.

*The difficulties the characters have with their roles in the story (not going into any more detail for spoiler reasons) are pretty clever, even if later on they do slow down the film.

The Bad

*One reason I recall for all the negative reviews when the movie came out was the bizarre names for the creatures. Seriously, Narfs and Scrunts? This sounds like Shyamalan was channeling Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter when he was writing this one. One review said it would be much simpler if Story were just a fairy (naiad?) or a mermaid being hunted by a werewolf. I know this whole thing is based on a bedtime story Shyamalan created for his own children, but the ridiculous species names were one of the major negatives from the reviews I can remember when the film came out. Listen to the podcast for all the times we mimicked Pinky, the deranged lab rat from The Animaniacs whose trademark saying is "Narf!"

*In the podcast, Daniel described the movie as "surreal" and it really is. It's just plain weird.

*Someone pointed out on the podcast that given the Narfs' isolation from humans, why does Story know how to speak English? That might merit an explanation--maybe she learned English from watching human fishermen? Then you could have BDH using sailor lingo and that might actually be pretty funny.

*Shyamalan casts himself as a major character in the film rather than his typical cameo. He's fairly flat in contrast to his character's lively sister and he doesn't really stand out like his costars do. This wasn't a problem with his character in Signs, who probably had a lot of guilt and possibly PTSD from falling asleep at the wheel and killing Reverend Hess's wife and whose main interactions are with the man he (unintentionally) widowed, or the non-entity park ranger in The Village who has only two lines. I can see why giving himself such a large part rubbed people the wrong way, especially given some revelations about his character's ultimate fate.

*The narfs and scrunts get introduced pretty early in the story, but there's another supernatural threat dropped in halfway through the film that seems a little abrupt.

*Like The Village but unlike Signs, it starts to drag in the middle.

*There's some additional information revealed about Story toward the end of the film that really needed to be foreshadowed better.

The Verdict

I don't think it really deserves the hate it got (four Razzie nominations?), but it's not a particularly good film, especially the more you think about it. At least it's short. 7.0/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment