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USA 2006
Directed by
M. Night Shyamalan
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

Lady in the Water

Synopsis: Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the caretaker of The Cove, an apartment complex. When he discovers a woman in the swimming pool, he finds himself and the other residents of The Cove drawn inside a fairytale. And the wolf is lurking in the grass...

Question: You are the caretaker of a large apartment complex. A strange woman shows up in the pool and claims to be some otherworldly creature. What do you do?

a) Talk to your friend, the Japanese exchange student, and ask her about fairytales that would validate the girl's claims.

b) Call the men in white coats to take her somewhere where she will be cared for and helped out of her delusion.

The answer to that question will pretty much define your experience of watching Lady in the Water, as the film never even remotely doubts the sincerity of its own setup. Reality as most of us would understand it does not factor in. Belief is the key to the whole film, and if you're not willing to go along with that, you're going to be laughing at the film the whole way through. Actually, even if you're prepared to go along with it, it will be stretching your patience at times. But strangely, it's really not that bad.

Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a Narf, a mythical creature sent to bring peace of some kind to the world. And in the mythology of the Narf, various people are gathered to protect her and help her in her quest. Much of the film focuses on the people in the apartment block trying to find out how they fit into the greater story, and as much how they get it wrong as get it right.

It would be so easy to let rip on this film. It makes it easy for you. Not only does it have characters who analyse the plot and tell you what is going on, it also features an apparently massive act of hubris: the director casting himself as Vick, a writer who is the object of Story's mission, the vessel for her inspiration that will transform the world. Add in a film critic criticising the film from within the film itself and more bone-headed plotholes than you can point a lazy writer at and you're left with a work that has a lot of nerve. It expects you to take it seriously, having stacked the deck so heavily against itself by doing all these deliberately perverse things.

Strangely, despite listing all these reasons to fault the film, I actually enjoyed it. There's a warmth and joy to all the characters, their simple trust in a truly bizarre and unbelievable thing was kind of touching. Their humanity elevates scenes that have no right to be good. Everyone in the film shines, Paul Giamatti once again proving he's a great everyman. But everyone else is good too. You like these people, even if you don't necessarily care about the fairytale. Add to that a wolf made of grass who is genuinely threatening and you have a multi-layered bedtime story that is a frustrating mix of moments of warmth and humour and life, and scenes so excruciatingly bad they will leave you frothing at the mouth.

Lady in the Water should be considered a rank failure for so many reasons it's impossible to list them all. And yet, for some reason, its sheer brazen earnestness is actually rather charming. The film confounds me. I can't pretend it's good, so many of its elements are stupid, poorly realised or inane. But still, I really liked it. I honestly really liked it.

 

 

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