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Lady In The Water - Review

The Lady in the Water

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Lady in the Water: A Bedtime Story; Reflections of Lady in the Water – Intro and the Script, the Characters, the Look, the Location, the Creatures, Post and Closing; Deleted Scenes; Auditions; Gag Reel.

M NIGHT Shyamalan’s latest venture into the paranormal has so far failed to make the splash he was intending.

It’s a complex and very personal tale inspired by a bedtime story he made up himself. But it resulted in the director’s unceremonious split from Disney, a critical backlash in America and the worst US box office of his career.

Yet it would be a shame if the stories surrounding it meant that Lady In The Water was similarly overlooked by audiences here.

The film is certainly an acquired taste that’s capable of dividing audiences into “love it/hate it” categories more firmly than any of Shyamalan’s previous work.

But those that get it will delight in its uplifting values and clever sense of storytelling, while even those that don’t may have to begrudgingly admit that they have witnessed something unique.

Paul Giamatti stars as Cleveland Heep, the stuttering caretaker of an apartment complex in Philadelphia, who comes to believe that someone has been swimming in the pool at night against regulations.

Pursuing the ‘intruder’ one night, Cleveland unwittingly falls in and is rescued by a nymph-like creature from another world named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard).

She informs him that she is a narf and that her path back to her world is being threatened by a “scrunt”, a green, hyena-like creature that’s responsible for the scratches on her legs.

Cleveland resolves to help Story get back and researches the bedtime story with the help of two of his Korean tenants who have a previous understanding of it – a hip teenager (Cindy Cheung) and her sceptical mother (June Kyoko Lu).

But when Story reveals that several of the inhabitants have powers that will protect her and assist with her return, it’s up to Cleveland to find them, even though their powers are hidden from themselves.

He subsequently enlists the help of an unlikely group of individuals, including a shy tenant with a passion for words (Jeffrey Wright) as a possible interpreter, an Indian writer and his sister (Shyamalan and Sarita Choudhury) and a lover of animals (Mary Beth Hurt) in the hope of securing a fairytale outcome.

Sound weird? You bet, but for those willing to buy into its charms, the ensuing journey is often quite wonderful.

No matter what you make of the fantasy elements, or the tenants’ reluctance to question any of them, the underlying theme – that everyone has a purpose in life – is relayed in such heart-warming fashion that it’s easy to forgive some of the flaws.

In Giamatti, it also has a terrific lead – someone who represents the shy, bumbling little person in all of us, who deservedly gets his place in the spotlight.

It’s great to see the actor taking the lead in a blockbuster and one can only hope that the film’s ‘poor’ performance doesn’t restrict his career growth, for he truly does provide the film with its empowering heartbeat.

Strong, too, are supporting actors such as Sarita Choudhury, Jeffrey Wright, Cindy Cheung and Freddy Rodriguez, as the quirky residents of the Cove Apartments.

While Shyamalan’s slick production values lend the film a distinct look that builds on the sustained sense of peril posed by the presence of the “scrunt”. His direction remains top-drawer.

For those that have always considered the director something of an over-rated phenomenon, however, some of the Lady In The Water‘s wilder extravagances will only serve to heighten their case.

Several of his decisions don’t work in his favour – the most notable of which is to cast himself in the prominent role of a visionary writer.

Hardly a brilliant actor, Shyamalan seems to be setting himself up for a fall in taking such an obvious pop at the critical community, thereby inviting easy accusations of egotism.

His decision to turn the main villain into a cynical film critic (played by Bob Balaban) hardly helps – although only the self-important among them will take the jibe too seriously.

The most critical of viewers will also point out that the film draws heavily from the likes of ET and The Wizard of Oz, so hardly feels original.

But no matter, if nothing else Lady In The Water will force you to have an opinion and doesn’t leave any room for fence-sitters.

It may not be his most accessible work but there is much to admire and take away from the experience – both personally and in filmmaking terms.

So while undoubtedly his most controversial offering to date, Lady In The Water is also his most challenging and, ominously, it may take a few years before its true worth is properly realised.

Read our interview with M Night Shyamalan

Read our interview with Paul Giamatti

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Certificate: PG
Running time: 1hr 50mins