“Don’t question the genius.”
One gets the feeling that this must have been the sign hanging above every desk at Shining Light Productions during the making of the latest M. Night Shyamalan film, Lady in the Water.
At some meeting, Mr. Shyamalan must have said “We’re going to start the film with dry exposition about an ancient story of water people and land people. And there will be cave-like drawings to illustrate this exposition.” It’s possible that not even an eyebrow was raised, because you don’t question the genius.
Months down the road, when they were filming a ridiculous moment with Paul Giamatti curling up on a couch with a milk mustache that was meant to be funny, but was more creepy; there might have been a quick glance between interns on the set. But not a word was uttered, because you don’t question the genius.
Then again, at the screening as the film came to its climax and two evil monkeys made of bamboo tackled a dog made of grass even the producers might have squirmed a bit in their seats, but speak up they did not.
Lady in the Water is the embarrassing herald that this auteur’s well has run dry. It is a fairy tale about a fairy tale that requires almost a third of the movie to explain and a few hours after the movie to believe they actually filmed it. Apparently, Giamatti’s Mr. Beab is an apartment building landlord who finds a Narph (sea nymph) in the apartment building’s pool and immediately discovers that she is part of an elaborate mythical mission to save mankind.
When there are actually spoken lines in the film like “Wait, there is something else my mother told me about the story that I didn’t tell you before,” or when half the movie is spent understanding the “rules” of this fairy tale, which apparently can be broken in this particular case anyway somebody along the way should’ve raised their freaking hand with a concern!
Shyamalan has even lost his edge with dialogue in this film. In Signs, he masterfully interwove comedy with horror, but here, his humor is not only weaker than previous attempts, but it actually pulls the viewer out of the reality instead of anchoring him to it. For us to swallow the major departures from realistic human behavior, we must somehow get the feeling that even the modern-day apartment setting is a bit mythical. Yet, when conversations about the destiny of Narph-kind are intermingled with killing cockroaches and whipping sisters with t-shirts in the laundry room, the viewer feels like these people live right down the road. And that makes the film absurd.
No one in the story challenges the idea that this girl really is from the Water People, they just dive into the ridiculous scheme. And half of them are irrelevant to the story.
My intelligence was insulted by Mr. Heab’s character. He was once a man with a purpose and a nice family, but they were all murdered and he’s lost his focus. Oh, and he stutters. I mean, c’mon! How much sympathy do I need to have for this guy. It felt like the deaf, gay, interracial couple in The Family Stone. It’s like the director is saying, please note: You need to really like this character.
It’s tough for me to systematically assess the flaws here because they are so pervasive and numerous. Quite simply, Shyamalan is still a director, but he needs to start directing other people’s stories. Don’t go all George Lucas on us here, M! You wrote well once upon a time, but considering your last few films, they might have been flukes.
And to all up-and-coming Hollywood types, if you ever see a story board with red-eyed wolves, evil monkeys, big Eagles, butterfly-attracting healers and a mermaid, I don’t care if it will cost you your career, say something! You owe it to us all!