Monday, July 24, 2006

What have you been listening to, watching, reading?

Article 19 Film Recommendation: The Lady in Water
I know, this movie has been getting plenty of bad reviews of late, but I wanted to see for myself before the negative buzz got too loud. The first thing to know is, this film is horribly marketed, and in a misleading sense. It is not a horror film, or a psychological thriller. To put it plainly, it is a fairy tale. A bedtime story. A children's story, even. And therein lies the problem. The Lady in Water offers plenty of grownup subject matter, some genuine Hollywood-style fright, and some grownup humor (there are more purposefully funny moments than purposefully scary ones), but the story they carry is essentially a child's story, complete with preposterous details, and some breakdowns in basic logic. If you've read reviews referring to the movie as "silly" it's because of an inability to look past those elements. I found this split-personality of the film to be pretty unavoidable. I'm not even sure I can refer to it as a failure of the movie---it's so much a part of what the story is.

There were definitely failures though--starting with the distraction and, depending on how you look at it, the egotism of Shyamalan having cast himself in an important role. But also, some of the humor didn't work (at all). And even some of his trademark timing in suspense was pretty clunky. All of that added together leave you with more than one moment of.."why" when watching The Lady in Water. It's a children's story that's not for kids, with creature-suspense elements that for the most part just don't work so well.

That having been said, I can say some good things about it, starting with Paul Giamatti, who is just right here and single-handedly gives the film a chance. But 2 other things make this not-so-great movie experience better than most failures. And, depending on what you like, and can look past, may make it worth a watch:

1) Shyamalan's sense of a film's drama being--like a detective story--as much a gradual revelation of the truth as it is about actual events unfolding seems an entirely unique film aesthetic, at least the extent to which he takes that challenge. If you enjoy that kind of construction like I do, in which a story builds a gradual picture of the truth, then you may enjoy sitting through this on some level, despite its other many short-comings.

2) I'm a softy, and something of a sentamentalist, we've established that time and again here. But, the *idea* at the heart of The Lady in Water is a beautiful one. It is a theme that is not new to the director: the idea tha what appear coincidences or accidents may be coordinated agents in a larger drama; that ordinary acts may lead to extraordinary, even heroic, consequences; that anyone (if not everyone) may have a role to play in the unfolding of those events of great consequence. And that role may not be immediately apparent. It's a beautiful idea, and that idea *is* the film.

Some movies fail because, despite their moments of real beauty (or humor or whatever), there is no idea holding them together, no real reason for their existence. If Lady in the Water fails, it's by being mostly only a beautiful idea, and with too few well-executed moments along the way. And given that the film's mission was a mash of self-referential, suspense-laden, detective-story, children's fairy tale, it could be that much better execution may have been impossible.

Weekend Box Office
1. Pirates 2
2. Monster House
3. Lady in the Water (I saw it, and will type something up about it later today)
4. You, Me and Dupree
5. Little Man
12. An Inconvenient Truth (yet another million dollar weekend. See it if you haven't yet. It's still playing here in Nashville, but this could be the last week. Oh yeah, and take the kids.)

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