Monday, July 24, 2006

Lady in the Water: a Gaggle of Reviews

Harry Knowles predicted that people would either like or loathe this movie.
There’s a scene in the movie where Paul Giamatti’s character has to be childlike, so that this ol Korean lady will tell him the whole story, so he can figure out how to save the Narf that has come under his care. He drinks milk, getting some on his moustache, he curls up, laying down on their couch… and has a carefree look upon his face. The scene, if seen through a serious light is ridiculous, but to me – that scene is how you have to see the whole movie. This is a fairy tale, a bedtime story told by M. Night Shyamalan as a tale about where inspiration comes from.

At least, that’s how I see it. It’s about throwing out logic and practicality. It’s about letting go of being self-conscious. It’s about goofily marching forward with chocolate syrup on your face while gnawing on centipedes. It is about breaking the real world down and placing it in a ludicrous bit of bedtime illogic.

Can you handle that?
What I find most interesting is the wide range of people who do like this movie.

John Mark Butterworth liked it so much that he followed up his review with an analysis. This is from the review.
Shyamalan is inviting those who can become as little children with minds for wit to contemplate how humans suffer and how they can be healed. He is calling the audience to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents. In fact, he makes Cleveland Heep reduce himself to that of pretending to be a child in order to persuade the Asian mother to reveal more of the Narf tale.

The crowd I saw it with had a hard time with this strange, filigreed plot and denouement. They seemed baffled, dismayed, or threatened by the purity and its attempt to thrust us into the heart of the Real for a moment.
Steven Riddle who I respect deeply especially for his ability to see below the surface. (scroll down to "Lady in the Water" as his permalinks are not working right.)
It is a film with a tremendous philosophical appeal, and that may be the flaw that makes it, perhaps a lesser film. Sometimes, the veil is torn away and one gets the "lecture" that has been hiding in some of Shyamalan's other films. This may be what bothers critics, but if so, it seems a case of intellectual laziness.
Jelly-Pinched Wolf liked it although his review focuses mostly on why people might not like it.
There's a character in the film who is a critic. He's a wanker, and is treated rather badly. This, I think, may be the source of so much bile from the critics. But what the character represents is not so much critics themselves, but the tendency people have to overanalyse books and movies--not after the experience, but during it. How can you possibly enjoy a story if you're sitting there the whole time thinking, "Oh, this is now the part when x will happen to this character, and then y will ensue, resulting in z ending." To be sure, many of today's movies do follow these formulas, and it's often hard not to notice them when they appear. But that doesn't mean we should go searching specifically for them during the movie. I'm not saying we should turn our brains off during movies (God forbid we should ever do that), but at the same time, how can you possibly enjoy a story if you are constantly trying to plug its parts into some analytical definition or another? But of course, the critics can only take the character who is a critic at face value. And I do wonder how much of their ire stems from that.
Jeffrey Overstreet gives it a B- and gives us hope by beginning with this observation.
Let’s put aside for a while the hype and hysteria regarding M. Night Shyamalan’s ego... the way he likes to talk about Bob Dylan and Michael Jordan as if he's their big screen equivalent. Let's turn away from the rants of those bloodthirsty critics who would like nothing better than to tear apart the film because of their dislike for the filmmaker and his reputation-crafting media hijinks.

The question for critics and general audiences alike should be — Is Lady in the Water a good movie?

And the answer is: Almost.

There are some nice ideas at work in this film that show off the director’s strengths. There is exactly one impressive performance. And one image in particular will stay with me forever. There are problems as well. But I’m not going to respond by presuming that Shyamalan is running out of ideas, or that his career is finished. Many artists go through dry spells, or stumble into bad imitations of their own work. And while this is, for me, the least of his big American movies, it isn’t even close to an occasion for derision. After all, substandard Shyamalan is still superior to the most engaging films of many familiar directors.
They've talked me into it. I want to see it.

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