July 27, 2006

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Lady in the Water (PG-13)
That’s right, I give you spoiler right there in the first sentence of the review but my conscience won’t keep me awake at night one bit because (a) the gruesome death of an arrogant film critic about halfway through the movie is stunning in its moronic meta-ness and anyway (b) that was just Shyamalan preemptively thumbing his nose at me and all the other movie critics possessing of sight and hearing who were at least 90 percent likely to pan his film.

And what a glorious mess of a film to pan.

The Dickensianly named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the stuttering, psychologically damaged superintendent of an apartment complex filled with all manner of oh so preciously strange characters, the newest of which is the aforementioned movie critic (Bob Balaban). At the center of this apartment is a pool and in the pool lives the strangest character of all, Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a narf, a water nymph (or, perhaps more accurately, a pasty sighted version of the 19th century technophobe Howard played in the last Shyamalan outing). She has come from the “blue world” (the ocean, I suppose) to help man understand something very important. What? Don’t know, don’t care, neither does the movie, so let’s just keep skipping through the plot, shall we?

Cleveland sees Story in the pool, sees her stay under the water for an unnaturally long time, thinks she’s drowning and pulls her out. She tells him she’s a narf just before she passes out from fear of seeing a scrunt, the green wolf thing which chases and attempts to eat narfs.

Cleveland wisely does not announce to the world that he has a narf — who could easily be mistaken for a naked teenager — in his apartment but he does ask around to see if anyone’s heard of a narf. One tenant, Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung), has and she tells him the parts of the narf fairy tale she can remember, about how the narf needs to deliver its message to one chosen person and how the narf won’t know the person (in this case a writer) until she sees him. After she sees him, the writer will undergo an awakening and the narf has to hightail it home via a giant eagle that drops by, but only on pre-arranged nights and only if no non-believing humans are around.

Yep. Giant. Eagle.

Slowly, Heep realizes that the characters who exist in the story to protect the narf also exist in the apartment complex — all the pot smokers and weight lifters just don’t realize that they might have super powers. He has to bring all of these people together and they must form a plan to fight the scrunt (at least until the evil apes of justice arrive; no, really) and save the narf who has brought them a message that will bring man peace.

That’s right. Narfs, justice apes, wolves, world peace — M. Night Shyamalan brings on the whole I-dropped-acid-and-read-a-book-of-Grimm’s-fairy-tales experience and asks us to find beauty and mystery in this silky watercolor of a story. I don’t, necessarily, but I was in awe of how completely off-its-meds nutty the movie gets. Sure, I thought, apes that keep law and order in the spiritual realm, why not? Let’s see where this goes. At one point Shyamalan does indeed appear in his story (as he so often does) and he can’t help but make himself one of humanity’s great saviors. And again, why not? This might be the last time anyone hands over a big sack of money to him in a while; he might as well make a little god of himself with it.

Like a bomb thrown into the picture-book-and-fairy-dust section of the crazy store, Lady in the Water scatters waify loveliness and glittery beauty all over the place in nonsensical ways. And while, technically speaking, Shyamalan was right to think I’d make merciless fun of his lunatic movie, like a car accident involving a pumpkin coach full of gnomes that hit a unicorn carriage full of elves, I just can’t look away either. C


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