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Lady in the Water /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, M. Night Shyamalan, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Produced by: Sam Mercer, M. Night Shyamalan

Written by: M. Night Shyamalan

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution


     Lady in the Water reaffirms the fact that, while writer/director M. Night Shyamalan may not always play fairly with his audiences, he is one of the most stimulating, fascinating filmmakers in the business today. The movie may very well be one of the most ridiculous pieces of work to ever be released to mainstream audiences in the history of cinema, but despite this, its allegorical grasp of fantasy is so detailed and intricate that it proves thoroughly compelling. In fact, if I was able to accept all of the numerous character-suggestions that Shyamalan makes throughout the plot, I would be tempted to call Lady in the Water a masterpiece. Unfortunately, despite its self-proclaimed title of “a bedtime story”, there are just too many coincidences in the film’s plot for viewers to buy into its intended meaning. When my dad used to tell me “bedtime stories”, they were usually about a magic cow that had eight utters, each of which dispensed a different type of soda or juice. I could accept those for what they were; Lady in the Water’s happenings, on the other hand, are just preposterous. While I admire his imagination, Shyamalan extends his liberty to embellish on his ideas to such an extent here that it crosses the unspoken line of the common-courtesy that an artist must display towards his audience in a contemporary piece of artwork.

     As hinted in my above comments, Lady in the Water’s plot isn’t exactly one of the easiest to describe in a short-synopsis. For this review’s sake, I’ll do my best to try to make sense of it. The story follows a troubling discovery of Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), the resident handyman at The Cove Apartment Complex. Late one night, Cleveland sees the need to investigate when he hears someone swimming after-hours in the residential-pool, only to find not a tenant but a mysterious sea-nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard). On land, this nymph is in endangered by the possible attack of mysterious, mythological predators. Cleveland hides her from them in his apartment and, as he discovers more about her kind (called the narf), he realizes that he must participate in a moral-conquest to allow her to be safely taken home by an Eagle who will be coming to pick her up. This conquest will require the fateful participation of other residents of The Cove.

     Due to Shyamalan’s masterful craftsmanship, Lady in the Water remains constantly involving, but somewhere between Cleveland’s initial discovery of Howard’s narf and a climactic segment in which a boy translates otherworldly messages by staring at a cereal box, the film’s abundance of ridiculous plot-developments becomes deluding. The abstract cheesiness of the story is never quite laughable because of the skillful manner in which it is presented, but in retrospect, seems totally off-the-wall. Nevertheless, despite its absurdity, Lady in the Water never ceased to captivate me, much thanks to its dense, brooding atmosphere. Giamatti’s amazing work as Cleveland also helps matters; his introverted reaction to the looming chaos in the narrative works perfectly, as James Newton Howard’s intense score lurks in the background. It’s a shame that Shyamalan didn’t cut down on the contrivances of his screenplay as he refined it because, had he been slightly less reliant on fortuitousness, the filmmaker’s superlative virtuosity may have been able to support it to a degree at which the picture would’ve turned out great. Lady in the Water may be the worst film Shyamalan has conceived to date, but it shows enough creative flare to reassure viewers that he has many more important works (ala Signs) left in him to make.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (7.28.2006)


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