Sunday, July 23, 2006

The ‘Lady’ to See


Lady in the Water is simply beautiful.

When I first heard word of the film back in November 2005, I was automatically anticipating this summer flick. However, it is by no means your average film.

From the creative genius that is M. Night Shyamalan, Lady in the Water brings a twist to the bedtime story we know and love. Though, I probably shouldn’t use the term “twist” and Shyamalan together for this movie. The writer-actor-director is known for his shocking plot changes towards the end of the film which ultimately help explain the entire feature; however, he neither employs this ending nor does he expect audiences to anticipate it.

This, I believe, is one of the reasons why film critics across America do not appreciate this film. Movie critics, like the one ironically portrayed in the film, know plots and cannot get around Lady’s basic simplicity. A heart, even with Shyamalan’s added complexity, the film is a fairytale, a bedtime story. The teaser trailer and poster from the beginning of the year (or maybe even earlier) said Lady in the Water was a “bedtime story.” I do not understand what critics were looking for.

Movie critics have become increasingly like weather forecasters in my mind. In recent years, I have stopped listening to specifics given by meteorologists, especially on local television news. For example, in the winter, they will say snow is expected for the next day, and there is no snow to be seen. With movie critics, if they say a movie is… for example “a muddle” (as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Lady), I find the opposite. Most critics found excellence in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation; however, what I found was a movie without plot or progression.

A ladylike creature (a narf called Story, and played mystically by Bryce Dallas Howard) from the Blue World is stranded at a Philadelphia apartment complex called The Cove. Superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) discovers this creature in the complex’s swimming pool and makes it his job to return Story back to the world from which she came. The apartment dwellers come together to help Heep get her back. The story about Story resembles a traditional – and sometimes twisted – version of a fairytale, such as The Wizard of Oz or Peter Pan.

This is all I will say about the movie because, going into the movie, I felt that I knew too much about the story because of the film critics. Wouldn’t it be nice one day to just go to the movies, see a film and know nothing about the film before you go? I know this is pretty much impossible in today’s over-the-top marketing world, but just a thought.

One of my favorite qualities of Shyamalan’s films is the development of each character, specifically their faith. While it is hard to deeply develop every resident in The Cove, Shyamalan does a good job of encompassing one idea into many characters. Heep doubts himself and does not belief his is the right person to help Story return to her Blue World. The movie focuses on Heep’s personal faith, and even Story does not always believe she will be Blue World bound.

The music – composed by the brilliant James Howard Newton – echoes that test of faith and the hard question every resident must answer: is this fairytale real?

The question the audience must answer: do I still believe in the traditional fairytale? This film debuts with conflict around the world: Iraq, the Middle East, North Korea, and other hotspots in the news. That very conflict is shown in the film and the ending, which I do not believe I’m revealing anything here, shows that conflict can be resolved, a faith tested and restored.

My faith in M. Night Shyamalan as a moviemaker is only stronger after this bedtime story. I was watching an interview with Shyamalan and a quote that stood in my mind follows: “Lady in the Water is a very hopeful story. I guess its moral is about finding your voice and that we each have something to offer the world. And if we can awaken that thing in us, we can contribute on a significant level…”

My grade: AB or 9/10 Stars

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