Bryce Dallas Howard
M Night Shyamalan
Recipie on how not to make a summer blockbuster: your ingredients includea dash of Splash, a touch of ET and a pinch of TwilightZone elements. Add to this a silly story mired in dense, long-windedmythology, a talented cast that should have known better and top it off witha young filmmaker, his runaway ego and a scary water sprinkler. Mix it alltogether, simmer on very low flame for 110 minutes and you have M NightShyamalan’s latest nail in his career coffin, Lady in the Water.
Philadelphia superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) has beenquietly trying to disappear among the burned-out light bulbs and brokenappliances of the Cove apartment complex. His mundane routine changes onenight when Cleveland finds a mysterious young woman named Story (BryceDallas Howard), who has been living in the passageways beneath thebuilding’s swimming pool. Cleveland discovers that Story is actually a”narf” – a nymph-like character from a bedtime story being stalked byvicious creatures determined to prevent her from making the treacherousjourney from our world back to hers.
Story’s unique powers of perception reveal the fates of Cleveland’sfellow tenants, whose destinies are tied directly to her own, and they mustwork together to get her home. But the window of opportunity for Story toreturn home is closing rapidly, and the tenants are putting their own livesat risk to help her.
Lady in the Water‘s production history is far more fascinatingthan the actual film and you can read it in the new book The Man WhoHeard Voices by Michael Bamberger. The short version: Walt Disney, thestudio who produced Shyamalan’s other features such as Signs andThe Sixth Sense, decided to take a pass on Lady in the Water, citing thatthe screenplay wasn’t worth producing in the state it was in (Disney mighthave reconsidered had there been script revisions). Shyamalan thoughtotherwise, threw a fit and took his project elsewhere (Warner Brothersreleased this film).
Normally, I wouldn’t side with a movie studio. In this case, however, theMouse House showed brilliant judgment by taking a pass. Nothing in Ladyin the Water works, the ridiculous, convoluted screenplay being thenucleus of the problems. The characters are zombie-like clichs (includingan uptight jerk of a “literary” whose sole reason of being is to attackthose who spoke out against Shyamalan’s earlier work) who never question thevalidity of their mysterious new guest, her origins or the unknown dangerthat faces them all. They simply buy into the fact that this young woman isa mermaid (forgive me, Narf), accept the mythology mumbo jumbo as thetruth and that they need to get her “home” safely. Apparently, this happensall the time in Philadelphia.
M Night Shayamalan’s slow-as-snails directing does nothing to help the plot (only awell-lit fire would do that), fails to build any sort of suspense (cue thescary water sprinkler!) or atmosphere (cue Christopher Doyle’s murkycinematography), and drags a well-meaning cast (which also includes JeffreyWright and Bob Balaban) right to the bottom of the cinematic swimmingpool.
The sub-par writing and directing are bad enough, but Shyamalan givinghimself a prime acting role is salt on the wound. It is nothing new that thefilmmaker does a cameo in each of his films. Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorseseand Lucas have all done it in several or all of their films. But thosedirectors were wise enough to keep their appearances brief…and quiet.
In Lady in the Water, Shyamalan does the opposite: he plays a struggling writernamed Vick, and is told by Story that his unfinished novel will eventuallybe loved by millions, possess the power to change and influence events andpeople worldwide and that he will die because of his work. It’s enough of aself-absorbed love fest to make one want to scream out “Get a room!” to themovie screen.
Lady in the Water originated as a bedtime story that M NightShyamalan told to his children, and should have remained that way. Whatworked as a sleeping aid for his kids unfortunately has the same effect onadults as a motion picture.Lady in the Water is a turd in thetoilet.