Lady in the Water (2006)
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, Sarita Choudhury, Freddy Rodríguez, Bill Irwin, Jared Harris, M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
This is the only summer movie that I had wanted to see that I didn’t catch in theatres. After a string of bad or mediocre summer offerings, I just didn’t have the heart to go another movie that was getting terrible reviews. Even though I’d enjoyed all of M. Night Shyamalan‘s earlier films (well the ones since The Sixth Sense anyway, no one really knows about the other two), but I was so down on some of the movies I’d been seeing that I thought it best to stay away. But now that it’s out on DVD, I figured I should check it out, figuring that my significantly diminished expectations should allow me to appreciate the movie, even if it wasn’t up to par with Shyamlan’s other offerings.
When I was done watching it, I was compelled to exclaim “that might be the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen”, so I guess my expectations couldn’t be lowered enough. Obviously, this statement was a bit of hyperbole, but the sentiment was accurate. What a dumb fucking movie. This isn’t a case of me being disappointed that Shyamalan wasn’t able to deliver a Sixth Sense-like twist or Signs-like chills, I understood what he was trying to accomplish with his modern day fairytale, it just that it sucked. Sucked possibly more than any non-X-Men movie of the year.
First off, the story doesn’t work on any level from a simple storytelling perspective, leading to the most awkward presentation of a dumb idea I’ve ever seen. Reportedly, the movie, which Shyamalan wrote and directed, stems from a bedtime story he invented for his kids. Possibly as a result, the script comes off as something Shyamalan is making up as he goes along, and when it gets to be more and more ridiculous, he is constantly stuck with having one of his ridiculous characters run off a few pages of exposition to try and make it work. It’s amateurish at best, but more likely the result of pure egotism run wild.
This is easily one of the most self-indulgent movies I’ve ever seen, complete with Shyamlan bumping up his usual cameo role to become a pivotal character as, get this, a visionary writer whose works are destined to change the world. Worse, he presents Bob Balahan as a standoffish, arrogant critic, allowing Shyamalan to exact a little wish-fulfillment, probably directed at anyone who panned The Village. The movie is the work of an artist who is either a little too full of himself and his work, to the extent that he figures he can put out whatever he wants and figures people will like it, or a self-loathing artist looking to self-destruct by seeing how bad he has to get before people reject his work. I’m guessing its the first one, since the movie was dropped by Disney when he refused to fix the script, making it one of the best moves Disney made all year (he would later release a book decrying this injustice of common sense).
Beyond the tortured expository-filled storytelling, the story itself really isn’t worth telling. It’s silly, the sort of thing even children would find to be a waste of time, and this movie is too dark for them to see it anyway. Besides Paul Giamatti‘s likable Cleveland Heep, the movie is populated with cheap stereotypes and ridiculous characters, and the actors seem more than a little embarrassed to be there. Even Giamatti, who is always great, seems to realise that he’s in a really bad movie, but gamely carries on, dragging the film on his back.
It is a truly turgid movie, but to be fair, it’s not 100% bad (few movies are). In this case, Shyamalan still knows how to film a scene, producing a fairly good looking film, as long as you’re not following what’s going on. Even in this area, it’s not up to par with his best work. By choosing to shoot the entire film in the condo complex where the characters live, the film feels a little too claustrophobic, with the material too weak to overcome the visual repetitiveness. Still, he is still a skilled technician with the camera, which shows me that he needs to take a break from the auteur thing, and take a shot at someone else’s material, be it another writer’s script, or an adaptation from a book, or, ideally, a comic book (where I think Night could really excel.
As for Lady in the Water, let it stand as an example of the dangers that can happen when a director gets too wrapped up in a passion project, eliminating the input from other creative voices along the way.