Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti, Sideways), the manager/janitor of an apartment building, must aid a nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village), which he has found living in the building's swimming pool, in attempt to bestow a gift upon a chosen person and then return home, to her own realm.
A Picture Book
When I was in film school, one of my teachers told a classmate of mine that the film he turned in was like a photo album; It may be funny and provide you with a lot of laughs and tender moments but it’s the sort of thing that only your family would enjoy watching because they recognize the people in it.
That’s the vibe I get from “Lady in the Water.” reading about it one finds out that the plot is based on a bedtime story M. Night Shyamalan told his daughter when she was little and I bet she like this film a lot.
I am not his daughter. I don’t have nostalgia for his bedtime stories. Will the film still resonate for me?
This movie has all the simplicity of a picture book. Characters which have one archetypical motivation or gimmick, simply explained rules, a magical creature, and a tragically alone hero in Paul Giamatti. I love story telling so a film that is all about the earliest stories we hear and how they relate to our own search for meaning should be right up my alley, and yet, I finish the movie feeling empty and profoundly disappointed.
Boring to Adults
"Lady In The Water," fails in a myriad of ways, the first of which is that it is boring. This is largely a film in which people have long conversation inside various apartments. Now, I'm not opposed to that in films, but in a movie that promises to be an exploration of fairy tales directed by a director of thrillers, it does seem like a bait and switch.
In addition, its boringness is not just the setting or the long dialogue scenes. If they were talking about weighty things or legends we all know and love, it would be enjoyable, but they aren't. They are simply expounding the story that M Night used to tell his daughter, a girl who could accept a name like Story for a nymph, which they call Narfs? As an adult, it is so childish that it loses your interest almost immediately.
Spooky to Kids
So maybe I'm just too old to appreciate M Night's childlike tale. Maybe it's for kids? Nope. This movie is too scary for kids. The conversations in this film are too complicated and boring for kids. I can't imagine sitting through this movie with a 9 year old and not having to stop every 5 minutes to explain what is going on.
On top of that, if I were to tell a 9 year old that we are going to watch a movie about a magical spirit of the water who has to find the chosen one and then return home with the help of three mystical human helpers and then I showed them "Lady In The Water," I can only imagine the disappointment I would be provoking.
This Movie Is A Muggle
The reasons that a child would hate this movie and that an adult would be bored by it are really one in the same. The various problems all boil down to the profound lack of a magical sense in this film.
Our 'narf' or 'nymph' is weak and vulnerable, doesn't know the rules of her own world, and doesn't ever do anything. She just gets carried around by other people and kind of whimpers a lot.
The 'puzzles' of who is what role in the magical realm are all fairly simple and the director's red herrings all fail. When they grab one guy saying he is the Interpreter or whatever, I knew immediately that they were wrong. It made half of the movie seem pointless because I knew what they were doing would fail.
At no point in the film do you feel like the world is just full of this hidden magic that lies just outside our sight. Instead, magic seems like a hassle. It has all these rules that get in the way of doing anything or helping anyone.
The humor of the film also lacks magic, The attempts at jokes and satire seem almost whiny because they are all about film critics being stupid. I don't need a 90 minute exploration of how M Night doesn't like the reception he got for his last movie.
The cherry on top of this mundane-loaf-of-white-bread-calling-itself-cake is M. Night Shyamalan's appearance in the movie. He always cameos in his films but in this one he is basically a main character. He is writer (subtle?) who is struggling to come up with something to write (subtle?) because people won't like it, attacking him for it (subtle?), but a magical being inspires him from out of nowhere (subtle?) and he writes a work that will change the world (subtle?).
What an ego-trip. How is anyone supposed to relate to this story that is basically about M Night having writers block and his daughter being his inspiration? It's so personal that it loses any objective interest. I seriously think the movie would be better if he had just cast someone other than himself in that role. You can't see that character as yourself or anyone you know because it is so plainly him.
The only thing that keeps this from being M. Night Shyamalan's worst movie is that he has made several movies that are absolute stinking piles. As we follow his career, this is the start of a real downward dive. It is the first inklings of the housing crisis that is to come with "The Happening," "Last Airbender," and "After Earth."
Will the market bounce back? Only time will tell.
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