Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lady in the Water

*** SPOILERS ***Despite its many flaws, I came close to loving M. Night's latest movie. It's a fairytale in modern times; its twists come in the telling of the story, not at the end; the characters are incredibly fun & the film continues to have that style of comedy that I love in his films - humour when the stakes are incredibly high (cf. the son with the gun in Unbreakable, listening for the alien signal in the car in Signs).

Unfortunately, Lady in the Water (LitW) totters on the edge of ridiculousness for almost all of its running time, which of course means it quite often falls and wipes out completely. I appreciated the risks it was taking, but it also handles its middle of Act 2 exposition badly & has a few too many plot points (I think, about 3 too many - Madame Narfs, Takamuks, and the giant eagle).

But what's most interesting to me are the flaws, and how they're actually necessary to the story M. Night is trying to tell:

The animated beginning (which I'd heard was studio imposed) is horribly overlong and expository and emotionally manipulative BUT it serves the purpose of making us believe in who Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) is, which helps Cleveland (Paul Giamatti) believe in her instantly.

But Cleveland's lack of disbelief is the second great flaw. Most reasonable modern people figuring out what Story is would go, "No. Not possible." But the film isn't interested in playing out disbelief beats. And as more and more people rally behind Cleveland and Story, without really questioning why they're doing so, their reactions become more and more implausible.

But, their belief not only fits into the overall mythology of the fairytale - it leads the ideas I enjoyed most in the film: that people who look completely normal can be imbued with mythological power and move among us undetected. Which leads to the final flaw.

Too much stuff. It's cool stuff - people with powers, three or four different creatures, a fairytale being told to Cleveland that's staggered over an hour, precognition, hypnotism, symbolism ... it goes on and on, the script overloading itself even though it's really telling a very simple story - find a special person, then return home through many dangers.

Huh, I just realised it feels like an adaptation of a 600 page Stephen King novel.

Anyway, I find myself in partial agreement with Sean (thanks for the robust post-screening discussion!) LitW feels like a first draft - it's filled with great stuff, good plot points, characters who you really get a sense of their past and future but it needs to be a) leaner, and b) flesh out a few things (the final fight, especially, felt like it was missing a beat).

But the film is not a mess in the same way as Pirates of the Caribbean 2. LitW knows what it wants to do (to bring back wonder), and for all its flaws it got there in the end, for me.
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