Film review: Lady in the Water

Lady in the Water
Legendary Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures

STARRING Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, M. Night Shyamalan, Freddy Rodríguez, Bill Irwin, Jared Harris, Doug Jones
WRITTEN BY M. Night Shyamalan
PRODUCED BY M. Night Shyamalan, Sam Mercer, Jose L. Rodriguez, John Rusk
DIRECTED BY M. Night Shyamalan

SHOT BY Christopher Doyle
EDITED BY Barbara Tulliver
MUSIC BY James Newton Howard
DISTRIBUTED BY Warner Bros. Pictures

Screened 2006-09-30

M. Night Shyamalan’s fifth film, his proclaimed fairy tale, is decidedly average. A few personal Night’s-pat-on-Night’s-back inclusions are: himself acting as, arguably, the most important character in the film, the true purpose of the fairy tale (which, surprisingly, is presented and discarded awfully quickly, crippling its own ultimate relevance), a young writer whose work is destined for once-in-a-millennium greatness (groan…); and, the rather unnecessary humiliation and grisly murder of a film critic – strangely, the only death in the film. Now you needn’t wonder why the film has been universally panned. Other characters include Night’s usual two-dimensional backwater, with not a trace of identity beyond their own screen time. Characters exist, are defined, by their roles in this one story, in the same way that the world they inhabit, the apartment complex itself, exists to serve no purpose but this particular fairy tale. The way the film is shot confuses me…I don’t know why Night wants us to focus on what he points his camera at…and that’s how the narrative feels as well. Like its got a story somewhere around (Night is not untalented), but has somewhat missed the mark.

Shyamalan is a student of Spielberg and Hitchcock. He wants to create magic. But he is also the child of the age of existentialism, so his magic will be based in the human condition (i.e. healing through catharsis). Unfortunately, by the end his characters play second fiddle to his story, which appears to be universally hailed as inanely convoluted (no argument here), and in the end, nobody is sure why we should care about it. Part psycho-drama, part fairy tale, but not enough of either; imbalanced. The very importance of the fairy tale aspect of the story (the writer’s work being brought to the masses) – the very crux of the entire fairy tale!! – is barely given enough screen time to justify its own existence. When you leave the theater and try to piece the tale together, it will take a moment of backtracking to remember why his fairy tale occurs at all. Throughout the film, Night reminds us that each person has a purpose in this world, though it may not be what we first expect. If that holds true, I submit that Night’s place could be in making movies (as I said, he is not untalented) – but perhaps not in writing them.

written by David Ashley