The Movie Binge

Review: Lady in the Water

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A mind-numbing work of staggering hubris, M. Night Shyamalan's Lady In The Water may be the most uniquely awful film of 2006. Though other painfully bad movies based on obnoxious, hackish formulae may come and go, Lady In The Water is almost innovative in its terribleness, and as a result it is most likely doomed to being used an example of how not to write a film in screenwriting classes for the rest of eternity. For one thing, the movie is at least 97% exposition, as Shyamalan's cast of characters attempt to understand a garbled fairy tale that has apparently come to life in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Philadelphia. In spite of the film's extreme, unrelenting pedanticism (it often seems like an annoying, condescending teenage boy attempting to explain the arcane rules of a dreary roleplaying game), the exposition fails to actually expose much of anything aside from the fact that this tale has no logic, emotional resonsance, or allegorical value, and is basically the most boring thing ever.

Making matters worse — far, far, far, far, far worse — is that Shyamalan has ditched his usual twist-ending shtick in favor of ham-fisted meta narratives that reveal him to be not only the most self-important and deluded filmmaker of his generation, but also the most petulant and vain. (And yes, I would consider Vincent Gallo to be of the same generation.) Not only does he cast himself as a writer whose words are fated to inspire a great and benevolent leader and photographs himself so reverently that he never appears onscreen looking anything less than heroic and wise, he indulges in a graceless, cringe-inducing diatribe against critics only tangentally related to the themes of the script. Bob Balaban, who to his credit is the most Balabantastic thing about this otherwise dire film, plays the critic, who is apparently meant to be unsympathetic, though this only seems to be established by the fact that he's a bit smug and complains about the loudness of his neighbors. After some terrible bit of dialogue taking his character to task for presuming to predict the actions of other people, Balaban is dispatched in the third act in a scene so embarrassingly on-the-nose in its verbalization of horror tropes that, entirely by accident, it is terrifying for all the wrong reasons.

Frustratingly, Balaban's cynical old critic is the closest thing to a believable human character in the entire film. Overstuffed with over the top twee oddballs who exist only as cutesy collections of quirks and seem entirely removed from recognizable human motivations, Lady In The Water shares much in common with Miranda July's similarly self-aggrandizing and critic-bashing Me And You And Everyone We Know. Shyamalan desperately wants the viewer to find his cast of weirdos charming and funny, but the man is utterly witless, and thus the characters come off as the result of forced eccentricity. Paul Giamatti sleepwalks through his starring role, going through the motions of his typical sad sack routine and unconvincingly playing the part of the hero. It's never quite understood why we are meant to expect that a lonely, shlubby widower who stumbles upon a pretty naked girl who fawns all over him and tries to cuddle at every opportunity would show absolutely zero sexual interest in her, and it's even weirder that no one ever stops for a moment to consider that maybe she's not a “nymph” and might actually just be some totally insane raver girl. For a cast of characters called upon to do some pretty weird things, no one ever calls into question the ridiculousness of the situation.

There's so much more that is bad about this movie, but it's hardly worth getting into. The pacing and editing is ponderous and entirely lacking in suspense; the cinematography is often poorly considered or flat-out hideous; there's a suspension-of-disbelief shattering sequence in which Giamatti spends about seven consecutive minutes underwater without any sort of breathing aparatus; Bryce Dallas Howard is forced to spout such awful jargon-packed lines of dialogue that you begin to think that Natalie Portman had it easier doing her Star Wars films. I could go on, but I fear that listing off all of Lady In The Water's numerous peculiarities may give you the impression that it could actually be an interesting film, which it only could be if you are fascinated by ego-fueled disasters.

Comments

What a Balabantastic review! I'm sort of interested in seeing it now if only because of the comparison with Me, You et al. but I will wait til it comes on HBO.

haha i'm interested in seeing it now too, just for the train wreck. poor shyamalan. he's not completely without talent (ahem, like gallo -- who keeps giving that tool money?), he just seems to be totally unable to check that ego... the cult of Night, led by Night himself. what a weirdo. points for working in "ham-fisted".

No no, everybody, heed the final sentence of the review. I accompanied Mr. Fluxington on this theatrical jaunt and I can assure you that you will be doing material harm to the universe if you give any of your money or time to this film. I'm serious here. It doesn't even have value in a "Ha ha, what a trainwreck" way. All you'll be doing is exasperatingly eyeing the exits throughout the entire movie. DO NOT GO FOR ANY REASON AT ALL.

Your review of this film is dissapointing. You seem to have missed the whole point, its people like you who get so caught up in the details and "suspension-of-disbelief" slag that you miss what the movie was about (watch again - Giamatti did use a breathing apparatus underwater HAH not tht it matters). This film was a welcome break from the usual drawl that fills our theatres week after week. As if Little Man, You Me and Dupree, or My Super-ex girlfriend could even hold a match to the cinematic experience delivered by Lady in the water. Those other three movies aren't even worth reviewing, I don't see why anyone would even waste their time seeing them. Lady in the Water was a film that was made awesome by the way its characters fell into a life more meaningful then they had previously lived. All rationality aside, they engulfed themselves into the story of the nymphs etc - farfetched- yes, but also an enjoyable story to watch unfold especially when Giamatti gives such a great performance. The film shows that not all people are selfish pricks who dont give a wank bout fairytales -some ppl would jump at the opportunity to live on another plain-get out of the wearisome drawl that is modern life in america. The scene where he heals the nymph - fuckin awesome, the cinematogrphy in the film - gorgeous, great shots and the apartment/pool/lawns/wolves/monkeys/and especially MUSIC all blend together to give audiences a picture that they want to believe. I'll admit, the movie wasn't mind-blowing, but it was perfect if you like to watch something where imagination and curiosity work together to entertain. Its sad that people can bash a film and give it no merit just because it combines the absurd with the 'real'. The Lady in the water was an interesting watch, and I left the theatre happy having seen it, as did the other 5 people I went with. Shyamalan is a director who really shouldn't have 'made-it' in hollywood, but I'm glad he did.(and if yah didnae like Signs then there's nay hope for yar soul) At least he ensures I don't have to watch Little Man and propaganda harbouring government sponsered flicks like World Trade Centre.
Reviewer: Go see Clerks 2 - its worth your while, as is this movie if you can take them blinders off yer eyes ya slly wee cunt.

interesting... While I get what Flux is saying, I must side with Carlos. I enjoyed the movie, and I feel like Pirates 2 dragged out much more than this did.

oh yeah, and the 2 others I snuck in with enjoyed it greatly :P

No! Do not believe Carlos!

This movie is not good...ok, maybe more interesting than "You, Me, and Dupree", but is that really an endorsement?

The exposition in this movie KILLED me. Something weird happens, Paul Giamatti looks confused, a mystical Asian explains that actually it's a lot more convoluted and involves magical animals, and this somehow wins over the characters to the cause.

They did wring out a few scares/jumps, and a few laughs out of the story, but totally not worth 8 bucks.

Seriously, there are way better movies that mix fantasy and reality.

seriously though....that BLIM-BLAM joke provided one of my all-time greatest laughs
more worthy of an entire movie than the Aristocrats for sure

i thought it was sweet and unselfconscious and honest. better than most of the stupid crap that gets made today.

pirates 2 was pure junk and it made me feel dirty sitting there for hours as it dragged on and on. there were no characters, just stunts. so stupid.

The concept of the movie is great and watching this, I couldn't help but think of how GREAT a television show/mini series it might have been. Instead, the movie was crammed with exposition and all the intrigue that could have been created - but wasn't - might have been drawn out over a season or two instead of forced into an hour or two.
This has been the problem in the last few projects he's done, too many ideas, not enough time. The Village - as a miniseries? Would've been perfect.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. But like M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, it's not the movie the promotion promised. It's a better movie than was promised. But if you were expecting a horror film, it's not. It's a farietale, (and The Village was a love story).

This movie translates well to the small screen and it's running on cable right now so I'd suggest it all. Decide for yourself.

(And you'll see Shyamalan poke fun at and disclose what's wrong with movie critics. As one of the pivital characters and the only real "looser" in the movie is a critic).


I personally enjoyed the movie. I saw it twice and bought the DVD. I love the good feeling it brought me. The storyline was so innocent, and the characters were lovable, and the music was so enchanting. I can understand if you're upset that it wasn't a horror film like the previews suggested... but it was still a good movie, regardless of Night's egotistical attitude or whatever, and only one believable character, yadda yadda yadda. All the elements added to a feel-good modern-day fairytale.

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