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It seems like most of the talk swirling around Lady in the Water is about M. Night Shyamalan, its writer/director, and not about the movie. Shyamalan is still only 35, which is amazing since it is 7 years since his breakout film, The Sixth Sense, opened and changed Shyamalan's life forever. Such success early in life is usually a bad thing and Shyamalan has been trying to recreate the success of The Sixth Sense ever since. Lady in the Water follows Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. Those three films were shall we say, not completely successful from the artistic point of view. They did earn a collective $437 million at the box office just in the US so he's doing pretty well. The Sixth Sense, which I loved, came out before geoff-at-the-movies but I reviewed the others without giving out a lot of bottles: Unbreakable (), Signs ()and The Village (). Basically, I thought that Unbreakable was good, Signs was stupid and The Village cheated us. So there is some talk that Shyamalan has lost it if he ever had it and is just another celebrity now.
Which brings us to Lady in the Water. I liked it and I Think it's Shyamalan's best film since The Sixth Sense. It tells the story of the people living in an apartment complex in somewhere USA. The apartment super (Paul Giamatti) looks the part. He is middle-aged and dumpy. His name is Cleveland Heep. He lives alone and is lonely. He has a secret past. The apartments are populated by a wide array of characters, including a movie reviewer (Bob Balaban), a recluse (Bill Irwin), a writer and his sister (M. Night Shyamalan, Sarita Choudhury), a crossword enthusiast (Jeffrey Wright) and his son, a young Asian woman and her mother (Cindy Cheung, June Kyoto Lu), and a weird guy (Freddy Rodríguez) who exercises only his right arm. A strange woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) suddenly appears. Not to spoil anything for you, all this is in the trailer, but Howard arrives by way of the swimming pool at the apartment complex. She comes from "The Blue World" which is connected to our world through a tunnel at the bottom of the pool. And, as we also learn from the trailer, if Howard can come through to our world, other creatures can too, and they do. Howard is a "Narf" which is good, and she is supposed to do some good things and then be whisked away by a giant eagle back to the Blue World. But something goes wrong and a bad "scrunt" is trying to kill her. The scrunt is a bit like a pit bull whose fur is made of grass. Anyway, all would be lost except that the super, Heep, starts to realize that these strange things seem like they are from a bedtime story, and not just any bedtime story but one that is known to the mother of the young Asian woman. From her story, Heep realizes that various denizens of the apartment complex are actually characters in the story who must play their roles so that Howard can get home to the Blue World.
Obviously, Lady in the Water requires a significant suspension of disbelief but not more that say Pirates of the Caribbean or Superman Returns. So I had no problem with accepting the premise of Lady in the Water. And once I did that, I have to say that I really enjoyed the movie. And I got caught up in the "bedtime story" and wanted to find out how it was going to end. First, I'd like to say that although the trailer tries to make Lady in the Water look like a horror movie, it's not. It's true that the scrunt is a bit scary but the few moments designed to make you jump mostly turn out to be the lawn sprinklers turning on. As you probably know, I am in love with Paul Giamatti and he is a joy to watch anytime. He is perfect for this role and goes a long way toward making the events of the movie seem reasonable as we see them unfold through his eyes. This is the second big role for Bryce Dallas Howard after The Village, not counting Manderlay which no one, including me, has seen. She is in danger of being declared M. Night Shyamalan's muse, much as Scarlett Johansson is now supposedly Woody Allen's muse. Howard's roles have been unusual, a blind woman in The Village and an otherworldly creature in Lady in the Water. These roles seem to fit her. She has unusual looks, looking rather too much like her father, Ron Howard, but it is working for her, at least until she plays someone normal. The supporting cast of Lady in the Water is great. Shyamalan, who likes to do cameos in his films, has a bigger role here and he's quite good. So are Balaban (A Mighty Wind), Choudhury (Mississippi Masala), Cheung and the incomparable Jeffrey Wright (Syriana).
As I said, I think that Lady in the Water is M. Night Shyamalan's best movie since The Sixth Sense. It has a goofy premise but it worked for me. I enjoyed Giamatti, of course, but it was also very fun trying to figure out who each character in the bedtime story was going to be. They get it all wrong at first. And the scrunt is the best new "creature" that I've seen in a long time. I love the scrunt! You gotta see him. Shyamalan does a nice job moving the story along and for once here's a movie that runs less that two hours! Anyway, I think this movie qualifies as a feel good movie of the summer so go have some fun.