Drink it Up

by Ian T. McFarland on July 21, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

The world loves the idea of hating M. Night Shyamalan.  After not being able to cater to the impossibly high expectations of The Village, movie-goers pounced on him, eager to sound sophisticated enough to say that the guy who revolutionized the twist ending was a talentless has-been.  Truth be told, The Village wasn’t great but wasn’t awful either; and anyone who gets the point Lady in the Water will have to jump off the bandwagon.

Lady in the Water
4 Stars

Twist endings, who doesn’t love them?  The only time we like to be deceived is in a movie theater, and hands down nobody does it better today than M. Night Shyamalan.  He so skillfully buries the true endings into the first two acts of his films that it can fully justify the price of admission.  Hell, Signs could have been nothing but Mel Gibson dancing around in a pink fluffy tutu while reciting “The Communist Manifesto” in a Greek accent for the first 100 minutes, and the ending would have still made it a great movie.

But Shyamalan has been the master of the surprise ending for four films now, and it’s become so expected of him that it’s not much of a surprise anymore.  The time came for good ol’ M. to retire the twist ending, to stop making films with more 180s than Tony Hawk gets in a half-pipe.  And he did – Lady in the Water is twistless, but the writer/director/producer/actor/whatever else you can think of proves with the film that he’s no one-trick pony; he can make a good no matter the ending

Paul Giamatti stars as the Super at an apartment complex haunted by smokers, sisters, film critics and a bleached skin Bryce Dallas Howard from some other dimension.  Howard’s character, Story, is from the ‘Blue World’ and has come to Philadelphia to muse a writer.  Everything’s fine, dandy and sort of magical until a wolf tries to eat her.

And that’s pretty much all there is to the story.  No, Shyamalan didn’t waste too much time investing development (and what development he does instill feels somewhat superfluous,) but the point isn’t a thick script—it’s the concept.  Shyamalan didn’t take on this Lady in hopes of giving us characters to fall in love with.  He wasn’t trying to dazzle us with story elements and he wasn’t trying to pull a twist on us in the final five minutes.

No, Shyamalan was going for the exact opposite effect.  Lady is nothing but a simple story, or to use the now defunct subtitle of the movie, it’s “A Bedtime Story.”  It’s a modern day fairy tale, not meant to thrill us but instead to celebrate the simple story. 

He even throws in a film critic some will claim to be Shyamalan’s way of poking back for all of The Village‘s negative reviews, but is really just a device to put it in bold writing for the viewer that this is nothing more than a simple, point A to point B story that has been installed into stories for as long as they’ve existed.  Hell, he goes so far as to name a character ‘Story,’ how much more obvious do you have to get?

It’s a refreshing take after Shyamalan’s previous four films.  Instead of trying to wow us, he uses his ability as an above-the-cut director to tell the same story a grade-schooler could tell.  Shyamalan may be too reserved of a director to truly wow his audience, but he still creates visuals and moods that set the story clear as stone.

He silps a bit in the final minutes by adding a bit too much humor than is appropriate, but the overall tone of the film is a gorgeous one, one that makes this critic anxious to see what different stories he’ll pursue in the future.

Don’t expect Lady in the Water to live up to the Shyamalan pedigree of a thriller that’s been so widely connected to this film in its commercials and posters, but if you go in looking for a nothing but a good movie, you’ll find an elegant summer treat.

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