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Overall Rating
2.58

Awesome: 10.78%
Worth A Look: 22.16%
Average: 13.77%
Pretty Bad: 20.96%
Total Crap32.34%

12 reviews, 95 user ratings



Lady in the Water
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Never-Ending Bedtime Story"
1 stars

M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water” is one of those all-out disasters that is so bewilderingly awful on virtually every level that most viewers will find themselves rubbing their eyes in disbelief on the assumption that their eyes are playing tricks on them. How could the same guy who gave us such crisply paced, serious-minded and narratively intriguing works as “The Sixth Sense” (which, while overrated, holds up far better on repeat viewings than most films based around a shocking twist ending), “Unbreakable” (his best, most underrated effort and one worth rediscovering) and “Signs” (at least up to the dreadful final reel) also be responsible for this, one of the most convoluted and incompetently told stories to come around in a long time. Hell, even his previous film, the generally derided “The Village,” at least contained a basic storyline that one could more or less follow along with as it unfolded (perhaps too much so since practically everyone who saw it guessed the big plot twist in the first five minutes and spent the next 100 fervently and futilely praying that they had guessed incorrectly and that it wouldn’t be that stupidly obvious). With this effort, we don’t even get that much. Instead, Shyamalan has perpetrated what may be the most narcissistic and self-aggrandizing work to hit a movie screen since Kevin Costner cranked out “The Postman” and, like that film, the most inadvertently entertaining thing about it (okay, the only entertaining thing about it) is the enormous gulf between the quality of what is up on that screen and the filmmaker’s obvious belief that every single frame is pure cinematic gold.

Paul Giamatti stars as Cleveland Heep–perhaps not the most ludicrous character name in recent memory but certainly worthy of being in the running–a lonely building superintendent at a Philadelphia apartment complex who, like most Shyamalan heroes, is still grieving over a long-ago tragedy that has all but destroyed his life. The complex seems to be populated almost entirely by weirdos of one form or another; there is one man (Jeffrey Wright) spends his time nursing his psychic wounds while doing crossword puzzle, a woman (Mary Beth Hurt) who is so earth-mothery that butterflies are always around her, a young Asian woman (Cindy Cheung) who spends her time loudly arguing with her mother in Korean and then offering translations, a group of philosophical potheads (led by Jared Harris) and a young weightlifter (Freddy Rodriguez) who has inexplicably decided to work on only one half of his body. There also appears to be someone else around who keeps sneaking into the pool in the wee hours and gunking it up. One night, Cleveland goes out to investigate and winds up falling unconscious into the pool. When he comes to, he is safe and sound in his apartment and he has been joined by a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is sporting only one of his shirts, some nasty scratches on her bare legs and the kind of vacant, glassy-eyed stare that you will soon recognize on the faces of the people on anyone who makes it through this film to the end.

Eventually, Cleveland discovers that she is not just a college girl who has wandered away from the stoners’ apartment but a narf, a sort of water nymph sent from her own world to ours in order to make contact with a writer whose work will be misunderstood in its own time but will one day inspire a young man to become a great leader and change the world forever for the better. Naturally, there are a couple of hitches to all of this. For starters, neither the narf nor the writer have any idea of who each other is or what will happen if they meet. A more pressing problem is that a scrunt–an ugly dog-like creature who is able to camouflage himself in the grass–is lurking outside the building to chomp down on the narf to prevent her from completing her mission and returning home. We also learn that narfs and scrunts appear in an ancient bedtime story that the old Asian woman knows from childhood and it becomes evident that some of the people in the building complex appear in it as well and they, without knowing it, may possess the power to help Cleveland and the narf overcome the scrat so that she may return home.

With a setup and jargon as strange as the kind seen here–imagine that scene in “Ghostbusters” where the demonically-possessed Rick Moranis is babbling about Gozer and how “Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day!” stretched out to two hours–you might expect that Shyamalan would take pains to ease viewers into the film’s oddball conceit but he seems to take a perverse thrill in making it extra-difficult for anyone to figure out what in the hell is going on. For starters, his brilliant idea to explain all the stuff about narfs and scrunts and the like is to have the old Korean lady scream it out in her own language while the daughter translates and, more often than not, goes off onto strange tangents of her own. To add to the confusion, the narf decides to stop speaking at a key point and this leads to endless scenes in which people ask her questions and she responds only by pointing at the wall or tugging her earlobe. If that weren’t enough, he has his characters finally puzzle out who among them possess the special gifts to help the narf and only at the last minute do they realize that they are all wrong, leading to yet another investigation before getting to the correct people. Just on a simple narrative level, “Lady in the Water” is so sloppily constructed–it is like listening to someone who is trying to tell a long and elaborate joke but who keeps forgetting to add important information and has to double back (“Oh yeah, there are these killer monkey men hiding in the trees . . .”)–that anyone who makes it through to the end will fully understand why Disney executives famously rejected the screenplay when it was presented to him despite Shyamalan’s past track record with them.

Instead of providing a coherent narrative, Shyamalan apparently decided that it was more important to both settle an old score and remind us all once again of his unparalleled genius as a storyteller. Regarding the former, he brings in a newcomer to the building named Farber (Bob Balaban) who turns out to be a creature even more vile and repulsive than a scrunt–a film critic. At one point, Cleveland asks him if he can help puzzle out who the various unknown helpers might be among the other tenants and he snidely breaks down their behavior and instantly reveals who they must be based on how predictable everything is to his refined sensibility–of course, he turns out to be completely wrong in a twist that will come off as clever to precisely no one. I’m sure that Shyamalan devised this character, who serves no real purpose otherwise, to show how clever he could be while getting symbolic revenge on all of those who snagged on “The Village” by vicariously feeding them to a giant scrunt. In the hands of a genuinely clever screenwriter–a Charlie Kaufman, perhaps–this gambit might have yielded some interesting results but here, it only comes off as a case of sour grapes and doesn’t make up for the fact that “The Village” still sucks runny eggs and this effort is even worse.

And yet, even this particular aspect if far from the low point of the film. That comes with the introduction of the writer that the narf is supposed to meet and . . . well, I’m not quite sure what she is supposed to do aside from offering a keep-up-the-good-work message from the undersea kingdom. After all, she already knows and informs us that this writer’s work will be hated and misunderstood in his own time–it is even implied that it will be the cause of his early and untimely death–but both he and his work will be revered by future generations and will play a decisive role in the very future of mankind. So, after writing this part–which is pretty much the second male lead and the role that much of the story of the film revolves around–who do you suppose that Shyamalan got to portray this misunderstood genius whose words will one day save us all? You guessed it–Shyamalan decided that the only person who could properly essay this role was Shyamalan himself (based on an acting career consisting entirely of gradually expanding roles in his own films). Even if he could act–and he can’t–the fact that he would actually dare to cast himself in such a part is an act of hubris so startling that it winds up subverting what little dramatic tension remains during every scene in which he appears.

Shyamalan is so busy screwing around with these diversions that even his inescapable qualities as a director–his ability to slowly generate a palpable sense of menace and dread without relying too heavily on cheap shocks and his facility with actors–wind up falling by the wayside. Although nicely photographed by Christopher Doyle, the storytelling is so clunky that the film feels like an especially awkward film school project. (One extended sequence–an elaborate plan to help the narf escape under cover of a giant party being thrown at the complex–is so poorly thought out and put together that when it all goes to hell, you don’t even notice until it is too late.) As for the two lead actors, Shyamalan had the good taste to hire Giamatti and Howard (whose work in “The Village” provided that film’s only highlight) and but perversely gives them nothing to do–Giamatti has nothing to work with beyond his character’s constant stuttering (which magically vanishes around the narf, of course) and while Howard has a nice, otherwordly aura about her early on, she spends most of the last half as an increasingly pale zombie with a disconcerting resemblance to Martin Short’s old Jackie Rodgers Jr. character from “Saturday Night Live.”

In the past, M. Night Shyamalan has openly compared himself to such legendary filmmakers as Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock despite having only a handful of films to his credit. If this is true, then “Lady in the Water” will probably go down as his “1941" or “Marnie”–a work widely rejected as an inexplicable artistic and financial disaster after a string of well-received popular favorites. Of course, in the years since those films were released, they have both received a critical reevaluation that has somewhat rehabilitated their reputations and I personally find them to be among the most fascinating of all their works. Shyamalan may well bounce back from this debacle–especially if the experience convinces him to listen to others or perhaps even work from someone else’s script–but I’m guessing that even the most devoted of future students of his work will be hard-pressed to consider “Lady in the Water” to be anything more than a cinematic case of temporary insanity.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14853&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/21/06 14:23:02
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell not bad imo 4 stars
2/07/17 Leires The movie was sitting on a TNT barrel. Love/hate stuff indeed. 3 stars
7/31/16 Jaekn Not worth the $5.00 to own in one of those superstore box deals 1 stars
3/17/16 Luisa Shyamalan needs to stop acting in his films, no onscreen charisma, it ruins the film 3 stars
5/19/14 JP Williams Standing ovation from a packed theater when my wife and I first saw this. Really enjoyable. 5 stars
3/12/14 Howard Mark Yes, I was in bed, tired as all get out, but my imagination was captured by the characters, 4 stars
7/09/13 Reptilesni Ordinary people become part of something extraordinary. I love this film. 5 stars
2/10/13 Langano If you don't take it so serious you just might enjoy the story. 4 stars
9/20/12 jenn thanks for this, my family and I love this movie. 4 stars
2/06/12 Monica S Charming, moving fairy tale . . . if you give it a chance. Wonderful acting. 4 stars
1/12/11 Perk Good movie. Very sweet fairytale. Might make u cry! Happy ending:) 5 stars
8/09/10 Eric Quite pleasant and a great deal of fun. Good work on storytelling. 4 stars
8/08/10 Bill P Surprisingly good! Great Giamatti! I've recommended it to friends. Surprised at the critic 4 stars
11/07/09 jimbob a picture for the evolved with wonderment, one of the best movies ever, you know i truth 5 stars
10/28/09 Steve I find myself watching it over and over each time it comes on. Flawed, but so enjoyable. 4 stars
6/21/09 JR Wow, so M. Night plays a gifted writer/ prophet who saves the world. My God, what an ego. 1 stars
3/17/09 :] wth...? 1 stars
3/08/09 Raul Valdez Jr not that bad 4 stars
2/21/09 ES Drew me in and kept me up late wanting to see what would happen, lots of great ideas n fun 4 stars
1/20/09 gLottis Giamatti was very genuine, and the film was enchanting 4 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. one of the worst films i've ever seen. 1 stars
12/21/08 tain movie was interesting... best soundtrack EVER. 3 stars
12/05/08 Shaun Wallner Very Boring! 1 stars
10/23/08 Bonnie An adult fairytale to be sure, and not a bad one, but his true talet lies in scaring people 4 stars
10/13/08 g. just ok 3 stars
9/30/08 Tim Paul Giamatti's Cleveland Heep won me over as he struggled with the pain of his loss. 5 stars
9/28/08 Sean Imaginative and insightful into a fairytale. Absolutely beautiful. 4 stars
9/21/08 Callum It is a beautiful movie. A fairytale everyone should watch. 4 stars
7/25/08 Helden Multilayered & surprisingly satisfying...I enjoy every MNS film I see. 4 stars
7/25/08 jeanne Masturbatory, self-indulgent, utter bollocks! A criminal waste of Giamatti, Wright, Balaban 1 stars
6/22/08 David This film is a brilliant Myth. Dumbies don't get it. 5 stars
6/16/08 LordHat Very good. 5 stars
6/15/08 Casey When I told people who didn't like it, it was a fairytale, I saw a lightbulb go on 5 stars
6/14/08 Steph This movie could be an IQ test. The narrow-minded dim-wits will hate it. 5 stars
5/20/08 PAUL SHORTT IT HAS ALL THE SUBLETY OF A BRICK APPLIED TO THE HEAD 1 stars
3/25/08 John Smith Great film, great review - (not automatically biased as so many critics are!) 5 stars
2/09/08 Deltaboy49 This film has a big, big heart and is full of wonderment 5 stars
1/11/08 pablo Much better than all that Harry Potter nonsense 3 stars
10/02/07 Rick Utter failure, nothing intriguing or new about the ideas 1 stars
8/21/07 Jubei A mess of a film.Zemeckis would've made magic with this premise.Unnerving. 1 stars
8/14/07 Claire Beautifully un-cynical 5 stars
7/07/07 me crappy movie, made no sense 1 stars
7/01/07 Danielle Ophelia I didn't hate it, but I was constantly aware of its shortcomings. 3 stars
5/09/07 Charone Easily one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen in my entire life. 1 stars
4/19/07 zenshark Don't waste your time. 2 stars
4/02/07 Quigley Giamatti is excellent; this movie is not. The opening sequence is the best part 2 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold OthehumorofShyamalan: castinghimselfastheimportantwriter"whosewordswon'tbeunderstood4years" 3 stars
3/03/07 David Pollastrini Bryce is hot! 2 stars
2/20/07 Stu Padasso It made me believe in people again. 4 stars
2/14/07 The chode Garbage. 1 stars
1/30/07 Indrid Cold A bold, unusual idea for a major studio movie, but it ends up muddled and boring. 3 stars
1/26/07 alice oh my god, this was so boring I could see dead people ! 1 stars
1/11/07 Tracey Chambers How quickly he believes shes something other than ordinary. Turned me off. 1 stars
1/01/07 Rubye Intriguing for those with imagination and magical souls 5 stars
12/28/06 grace yost it was great, excellent will watch it again and again 5 stars
12/15/06 Donny Martwick First half had so much potental. They should of had 100 wolfs and magic powers. 2 stars
12/04/06 Mike Self-indulgent 2 stars
9/27/06 Raj Its like having E Coli for dinner. VOMIT INDUCING CRAP! 1 stars
9/27/06 Erin Amidon ET meets SPLASH and both are utterly clueless as to what to do with each other! 2 stars
9/15/06 Ben The water in my toilet looks better than this! 1 stars
9/15/06 M Night Worth 2 C Not formula mainstream flick 4 stars
9/13/06 Poonam THE WORST FILM OF THE YEAR 1 stars
9/04/06 Jenny Um - The Village was better than this movie - if that tells you anything! 2 stars
9/03/06 Dragon The Artist Not too bad, a hell of a lot better than The Village,about as medieocre as Signs 3 stars
8/30/06 Killjoy Sleep inducing movie he made for his kids and we have to endure the torture! 1 stars
8/26/06 Stanley Thai Not one of M. Night's best but still a great film. 4 stars
8/25/06 Al Guy He's getting tiring. 2 stars
8/24/06 Chad Thomas M. Night has lost his mind! 1 stars
8/22/06 G Sherfy "Tepid" is apt; the world wisens to Night's trick that he's a good direc. 1 stars
8/18/06 KAREN MATLOCK very disappointing 2 stars
8/15/06 Rohit Shocker from the guy who made 'Sixth Sense' - Night gone mental here 1 stars
8/15/06 Becca totally blew ass. cried laughing. WORST MOVIE EVERRR. 1 stars
8/11/06 michael average and wait for the DVD 4 stars
8/10/06 melivorous Great Storytelling 4 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist A hell of a lot better than that everso disappionting The Villiage, thats for sure!! 4 stars
8/06/06 Roadkill Report If you notice, at least in a dozen scenes in the move you can actually see the overhead mic 1 stars
8/06/06 Erik Van Sant Somebody peed in the pool. M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong has flown the coop. 1 stars
8/05/06 nicklor24 one of my top 10 films, original and fantastic, check it out 5 stars
8/02/06 Forderve So different and original, it's a good fairy tale with deeper meaning than most movies 5 stars
8/02/06 Caddy One of the best movies I've ever seen. Too bad people are so cynical these days. 5 stars
8/02/06 Tim in VA A dreadfully boring and possibly drug-induced cinematic excretion. Two thumbs down. 1 stars
8/01/06 Luisa Great actors...bad movie...M.Knight is only getting worse...he needs to lose the ego... 2 stars
7/31/06 Marty original concept but obvious vendetta for critics. giamatti rocked. 3 stars
7/30/06 Sano Charming, Original...I liked it as well. 4 stars
7/29/06 Troy M. Grzych Held my interest but was a bit slow. I enjoyed the ride. 4 stars
7/28/06 Bad Critic Idea (Narphs and Scrunts) was retarded... but Giamatti was typical with a great performance 3 stars
7/25/06 Ole Man Bourbon Beyond ridiculous. Superlatively horrid. Egad. 1 stars
7/25/06 moondog cliché, tired, expected... worst movie I've ever seen 1 stars
7/24/06 Mark This deserves negative stars 1 stars
7/24/06 ahnold Still imaginitive, original and entertaining. 4 stars
7/24/06 Jay Yup this movie sucked big time. Oh and the Chinese woman is actually Korean. 1 stars
7/23/06 Roy Smith It's ridiculous...and I loved it. I'm strange, so sue me. 4 stars
7/22/06 David Hollingsworth It really doesn't make sense. 2 stars
7/22/06 Nightjorn crap movie crap movie crap movie 1 stars
7/22/06 scotty great movie great movie great movie 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Jul-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006

UK
  18-Aug-2006

Australia
  07-Sep-2006




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