The Lady in the Water

Release Date: July 21, 2006

Most Americans, upon finishing with their bowel movement, flush it down the toilet. M. Shyamalan, however, recently filmed one of his and gave it a musical score. The result can be seen in theaters right now, though I expect it will be of more interest to flies than to Homo sapiens.

The Lady in the Water it is called, and the story revolves around a so called narf named Story who lives underneath a swimming pool at an apartment complex overseen by Cleveland Heep. Curious as to who has been swimming in the pool late at night, Mr. Heep, played by Paul Giamatti, discovers it is this magical creature, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, when she saves him from drowning. Cleveland soon learns that she needs to return to her home world, called the Blue World, but she is being pursued by a scrunt, played by some CGI computer geek who still can’t make a CGI character look real and therefore menacing. In order to get her back to her home world, on the wings of a large bird named The Great Eatlon, Story will require the help of certain roles in her tale, though just who is supposed to fill which role is not clear. At least it’s not clear to Cleveland; an astute observer will know pretty early on who is who.

I’ll come clean with you: I had no idea what Bruce Willis was in The Sixth Sense. I’m not one of those who insist that they can see everything coming in a movie, albeit with no way to prove it afterwards. But in this latest piece it is simply too obvious. Shyamalan, caught up in a self indulgent moment, included the character of Mr. Farber (Bob Balaban), a genuinely unlikable and sour movie critic whose untimely demise may be M.’s own personal wet dream. Heep goes to Farber for advice on how to know who is who; I’ll let the good reader decide for himself how likely it is that Farber’s advice is sound. Not content with, in a sense, burning his critics in effigy, M. could not resist having another character give a rebuking speech on the effrontery of a critic thinking he could divine the intentions of a story teller. But the whole distracting episode backfires because the entire time it is bleeding obvious what the true answers are.

When Harry Farber does get what M. believes to be his just punishment, it is done in such a clumsy manner that the movie, which up until then I had severely disliked, became so loathsome to me I nearly vomited in the theater. Farber encounters the creature in a hallway of the apartment complex and then, rather then running, begins a monologue about what normally happens in horror movies and rationalizes that he will survive the encounter by a narrow escape. He turns to run and is mauled from behind. Had he not taken an entire sixty seconds to blabber while a killer beast was staring him down not twenty feet away, he probably would have made it. I suppose the incident is meant to be humorous as well, but it merely became the sixth or seventh attempt at a laugh to backfire completely (although the movie does elicit some laughs, just not at the intended moments). Indeed, the opening shot is just such an attempt that went terribly wrong.

In addition to failed jokes, there is no drama in the scenes. In the latter half this is due to our complete lack of interest in the characters and their silly rituals, but in the first half, while we are still willing to give the movie a chance, there simply isn’t any drama other than the forced variety. For instance, when Story saves Cleveland from drowning he awakens later on his couch to see her sitting in a chair watching him. He asks her where she is from and she replies, “The Blue World” as if it were nothing, and if not for the incredulity nothing is what we would feel upon hearing the pronouncement. It comes off as a little silly, especially when Cleveland himself has no real reaction to it. In fact, all the characters displayed a definite gullibility as they take what Story feeds them without question. If the movie is meant to appeal to our sense of wonder, perhaps the characters in it should show a little themselves. To make matters worse, the acting is at times amateurish. Some characters, though I am sure they are supposed to be heart warming and endearing, even come off as buffoons.

Back to the theme of M.’s indulgence: he actually cast himself in the movie! Apparently, he either never watched himself in Signs or allowed hope to triumph over experience. But his character in Signs at least fit in the movie. His character in Lady in the Water, Vick Ran, serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s as if he finished the script and then decided to add himself to the movie as well. What role does he play? None other than a misunderstood writer whose words will change the future once he is finally understood! Asshole!

The movie does have its bright points. For one thing the music was nice, and it’s not like M. doesn’t know how to handle a camera. Despite his continued and persistent use of awkward shots that look like someone bumped into the tripod but they filmed the take anyway, it is obvious that the movie was not shot by novices. But all in all I have to say I truly disliked it. In fact, I hated it. In fact, this movie was so bad it made me hate Signs, and I like Signs! But now I’m sitting here wondering how I could like anything this man makes (what the heck was the deal with Joaquin Phoenix anyway? He’s a former professional baseball player and he doesn’t know to pick up the handy baseball bat on the wall and smash the alien abductor to bits? His sister-in-law actually has to die first and leave him a last message?)

Anyway, this was the biggest disappointment I have experienced in a theater in a long time. The movie is silly and the story ineptly pieced together. This would be bad enough, but M.’s colossal arrogance makes one less than forgiving of the movie’s faults. Some of what he does in the movie is so absurd that one wonders if he imagines himself a King Midas of celluloid, that anything he does will be good art, that he can pull off what no one else can, even if the unwashed and benighted masses don’t yet understand him. In an interview leading up to the movie’s premier, the reporter asked M. if people would like his movie. He replied, “It doesn’t matter.” It was an honest answer: no doubt it doesn’t matter to M.

Final Grade: D

The Upside: The movie eventually ends.

The Downside: The movie occasionally begins.

On the Side: M.’s middle name is Night.

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