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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.31%
Worth A Look: 22.02%
Average: 13.69%
Pretty Bad: 20.83%
Total Crap32.14%

12 reviews, 96 user ratings

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Lady in the Water
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by MP Bartley

"Oh, Shyamalan - you make it so hard for people to like you."
3 stars

Lady in the Water is rapidly going down as one of the most public professional suicide notes that any major director has ever made. Released to almost universal critical disdain, it is also the film that saw Shyamalan and Disney have a major falling out. Shyamalan's films have always skirted a fine line between a unique vision and a pompous stupidity, and Lady in the Water continues that balance as well as providing further proof that Shyamalan's quality control has been steadily backpedalling ever since The Sixth Sense. Yet it is for these very reasons that Lady in the Water has a certain fascination to it - it may well be a muddled mess, but it's just so darned strange and flawed that it demands your attention.

Paul Giamatti is Cleveland Heep, a morose and stuttering handyman who works at The Cove, a building of apartments that are built around a swimming pool. The inhabitants of The Cove include a squabbling Chinese woman and her teenage daughter, a bodybuilder (Freddy Rodriguez) intent on building up only one side of his body, a crossword fanatic (Jeffrey Wright) and its newest arrival, Farber (Bob Balaban) an embittered film and literature critic. Farber's status as the lastest inhabitant doesn't last long as Heep discovers Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a strangely pale and elfin woman splashing around in the pool late at night.

Except of course that Story isn't a woman. No, she's a nerf, a water nymph that are part of an ancient race that used to have a harmonious relationship with the world of men. However, humanity has since moved on and forgotten this relationship, leaving the nerfs to become part of urban myths and fairy tales. Nerfs however, always return for a reason - in this case, Story has to meet a writer (Shyamalan's latest cameo) and provide him with hope and inspiration for the future, as this particular writer will one day inspire in turn a great world leader. Story's quest is not as simple as it sounds however. Scrunts - savage wolf-like creatures that can disguise themselves in the grass - feast on nerfs, and have followed Story here to snatch her before she can return home. On the back of a giant eagle. Oh yes, and there are killer monkeys hiding in the trees too.

Yes, Lady in the Water is a silly story that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. It's not thrilling or charming enough for kids, and it's not witty or clever enough for adults. Some critics instantly dismissed it simply because they couldn't take seriously a film that revolved around nerfs and scrunts - yet they're no more silly a name or a concept than films about Jedi, Davy Jones or Uruk-Hai. Cinema has always revolved around the fantastical, Shyamalan has merely opted to place them in the most down to earth, grimy place he can think off.

It's a bizarre mix that understandably puts some off, yet also strangely works simply because of the sheer banality of it. Shyamalan's awkward camera set-ups (the object of interest in the background while an object in the foreground obscures it, or it is out of view completely) are at their most irritating and sloppy here (quite often the film looks like it was set-up on a whim), but the low-key dimly lit feel of the film gives it an off-kilter mood that draws you in. Giamatti's casting complements this. The film looks like a scuzzy, cheap indie effort that should consist of people just sitting around and talking, and Giamatti is the kind of actor that should be in that kind of film. He doesn't have the star wattage that Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson that Shyamalan previously relied on, and his mumbling performance fits in perfectly here. Combined with the sheer ludicrousness of the plot, it makes for a mix that is at least as much interesting for all the reasons it fails as it is for the times it works.

What finally teeters this balance into the realms of awfulness for some are two glaring characters. Firstly, there's Shyamalans casting of himself as the writer who will one day inspire a great world leader. Shyamalan has been steadily increasing his amount of screen time and the importance of his characters to the narrative in every film, and it reaches a narcissistic high of immense hubris here. Frankly, Shyamalan has little dynamism as an actor and his self-casting here is an unforgiveable and indefensible stunt of egotistical folly - made all the worse by the fact Lady in the Water takes itself so damn seriously.

Secondly, there's Balaban's film critic character, a not so subtle allusion to all of Shyamalan's previous critics. A snotty, arrogant know it all ("There are no more original stories left" he sneers at one point - the very reason Lady in the Water seemingly exists for), his characters nadir is the moment where he is cornered by a scrunt and procedes to relate to no-one in particular, how in every horror film there is an annoying secondary character who achieves a moment of redemption when threatened before becoming a much more sympathetic character. The problem with Farber is not so much what his character is (I laughed at his dismissal of one particular rom-com cliche that he has just seen in particular), but more how utterly unneeded he is. I know of not one critic that was offended by the Farber character (presumably what Shyamalan intended), or felt cut down by him, of thought "God, you know what? That is what I am like - I must be kinder to filmmakers from now on!". Critics are pretty thick skinned characters and the character of Farber has been rightly met with much more laughing derision than shamefaced recognition. It's a petulant move by Shyamalan that actually says more about him, than it does about his enemy - the fearsome film critic (It reminds me of the Welsh rock band Stereophonics, who after receiving some fierce and sustained criticism released a song called Mr Writer as a reply to all their critics. Unfortunately it was not the greatest rock and roll song of all time that would have blown their critics away - it was a whining, mewling dirge. Farber is that very song).

But what keeps Lady in the Water going is the very idea that Shyamalan thinks that this would work. He's based his career on cold manipulation of the audience, leaving clues littered throughout his films as to what is going on, before pulling the rug from under your feet if you haven't caught on, and here it's an overt comment on that. Clues are left around The Cove as to how to get Story home and how to avoid the scrunts - which do give a fearsome frisson to some scenes - and the characters throw themselves into this quest wholeheartedly. For a film that has a strong petulant streak running through it, there's also a wide eyed belief in the power of story telling here that does exert a certain compelling power. It's just a shame that Shyamalan couldn't decide whether the film was about this or a big two fingers stuck up at his critics: "You didn't like me before? Try liking THIS then!" is what he's saying here, and the personal grudge he feels and invests in the film is almost admirable. Almost.

Look, there's no point pretending that this is a misunderstood film that people will eventually come round to. It isn't, and it merely confirms Shyamalan's reputation as the most divisive person in film today. Yet I'd much rather watch a muddled, flawed failure from Shyamalan than a safe, predictable Ron Howard or Robert Zemeckis film and for Shyamalan to defiantly release this, shows that not only does he have a massively inflated head, he must also have balls the size of boulders.

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originally posted: 07/04/07 19:17:57
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User Comments

10/02/20 steve Took me a couple views but i love this film!! 5 stars
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
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
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  21-Jul-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



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