LADY IN THE WATER
Apartment block supervisor Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) discovers a mysterious young woman in the block's swimming pool one night, Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), and discovers she is a narf, a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the treacherous journey from our world back to hers. Cleveland and his fellow tenants realise that they are also characters in this bedtime story. As Cleveland falls deeper and deeper in love with the woman, he works together with the tenants to protect his new fragile friend from the deadly creatures that reside in this fable and are determined to prevent her from returning home.
Review by Louise Keller:
M. Night Shyamalan's fascination for different worlds continues in his latest film, an absurd mystery fantasy whose premise explores having a purpose. The Sixth Sense worked on all levels, Unbreakable showed the filmmaker's vulnerability, Signs was problematic and The Village simply didn't work. Lady in The Water is ludicrous, drowning in its astonishing premise and irritating by its failure to connect on any level. Instead of it being a 'who dun it', the film puts its focus on 'who are the saviours' of the mysterious lady of the title.
The film bears a conceit that implies a certain knowledge privy only to the actors and the filmmaker. So when Paul Giamatti's troubled stuttering apartment caretaker Cleveland rescues a long-haired, wan nymphette (Bryce Dallas Howard) whom he finds swimming in the slightly skewed heart shaped pool at night, he begins a conversation with her that makes no sense at all. It is not until a little later in the film that a middle aged non-English speaking Chinese woman (through the nonchalant translation of her daughter) spills the beans about a fable, a powerful nymph from another world and the grass-covered monster that hinders her rescue to her own blue world by a soaring eagle. The stilted dialogue goes 'I trust you; I will not be safe; you believe you have no purpose - but you have a purpose; your thoughts are very sad...' The most interesting thing about the film is the idea of the characters, who might have been inspired by Hitchcock's Rear Window. But watching Howard making charade-like signs draped in a towel sitting on the floor of the shower recess, while all the apartment residents look on, is the ultimate cuckoo moment.
The big mystery is how Shyamalan convinced his stellar cast to sign on the dotted line. Giamatti is no slouch, delivering the film's most powerful scene towards the end while Jeffrey Wright's crossword fanatic and Bob Balaban's deadpan film and book critic are downright interesting. At one point Balaban's character says rhetorically 'How was the movie?..... it sucked'. Touché.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As if Signs and The Village weren't bad enough, financiers have been convinced that M. Night Shyamalan's gift will continue to give as he trawls his imagination for mysteries and fantasies. Lady In The Water began as a stream of consciousness bedtime story for his two young daughters, but it has ended up as confused banter that's suitable for neither children nor adults. After a portentous and pretentious start, preceded by mumbo jumbo narration about humanity's shortcomings, the film plods its way through a series of impossibly silly situations that lack the flair of fantasy or the grip of fear. And has nothing to do with the opening gambit.
The lady of the title, named Story in what was possibly one of several fleeting but abandoned ideas, is played by a breathlessly whispering Bryce Dallas Howard who is given to speech affectations to suggest her other worldliness. She speaks without apostrophes in stilted dialogue that her agent should have erased from the soundtrack to safeguard her career.
The apartment block and its supervisor Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is a bland contrast to the mysterious world from which Story the narf comes (a creature whose name sounds dangerously close to naff), but the contrast is never exploited. The tenants are a dull bunch, although Jeffrey Wright and Bob Balaban can't help but aid the cause. Balaban features in the one blackly comic scene, but sadly this is so out of kilter with the film it suggests that either desperation was setting in and the filmmakers needed something the rescue the boring movie, or they had simply lost all track of their senses. On second thoughts, seeing that Balaban plays a book and movie critic, I think it is Shyamalan getting his revenge by having the character mauled to death - this revelation might have I spoilt it for you, if the film wasn't already spoilt.
It's difficult to believe that Shyamalan gathered his cast with the screenplay, but if he did, there can be no excuse. As for the carelessness evident here and there, it suggest a slap dash filmmaker whose conceit is greater than his craft. Lady in the Water should have been drowned at birth.
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LADY IN THE WATER (PG)
CAST: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Sarita Choudhury, Cindy Cheung, M. Night Shyamalan
PRODUCER: Sam Mercer, M. Night Shyamalan
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
SCRIPT: M. Night Shyamalan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christopher Doyle
EDITOR: Barbara Tulliver
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Martin Childs
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 7, 2006