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Shyamalan returns with the magnificent fairy tale "Lady in the Water"

by JD Warnock on July 21, 2006

in Print Reviews

I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to a movie that made me jump out of my seat, laugh out loud, and get all emotional in the same two hours. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water” is an incredibly well balanced film that has immense style and substance. A bit of a warning though– for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable riding the fantasy train, this one isn’t for you.

Love him or hate him, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is a distinct voice in film. He has successfully built a collection of movies that are uniquely and specifically his own. “Lady in the Water” continues to advance his body of work and gives Paul Giamatti another chance to shine. The film has all the endearing soul of “Cocoon” with the fantastic edge and intrigue of the best of the “Harry Potter” films.

Unlike “The Sixth Sense” and “The Village,” “Lady in the Water” can’t be unraveled or ruined with one key piece of information. This fairy tale about a girl who mysteriously appears out of an apartment complex swimming pool strays from Shyamalan’s infamous formula of the last minute twist and instead gives us a puzzling story that continues to misdirect and surprise throughout the entire film. The storyline is multilayered and can withstand summation without losing its effect.

Once again, the always reliable Giamatti is a joy to watch, portraying the stuttering Cleveland Heep, an apartment super with a past, whose attempts to catch an after-hours swimmer lead to an encounter with a girl named Story. Played by Bryce Dallas Howard (“The Village”) Story is a Narf, a character from an ancient children’s tale. The role is tailor made for Giamatti’s credible everyman. He is as nuanced and wonderful here as he was in his Oscar-nominated performance for “Sideways.” However, this material is much stronger and Giamatti is clearly the center of the ensemble.

Continuing an ever escalating Hitchcock-like trend, M. Night Shyamalan appears as a prominent character in “Lady In the Water.” Boldly giving himself a larger role than he has in any of his previous films, including “Signs,” Shyamalan plays a pivotal role and has more screen time than notable supporting heavyweights like Bob Balaban and Jeffery Wright. While his appearance in the closing minutes of “The Village” was horribly distracting, Shyamalan gives an admirable and unobtrusive performance as tenant and writer Vick Ran.

“Lady in the Water” is visually magnificent. Among the many shots in the film that showcase Shyamalan’s eye for inspired camera work is one scene shot from below the drain at the bottom of the pool. Shyamalan also makes steady choices with some of the fantasy elements toward the climax of “Lady,” allowing the viewer’s imagination to fill in a few smartly-placed blanks.

Ads for “Lady in the Water” call it a “bedtime story,” and the film conforms marvelously to that notion. Shyamalan proves once again that he is a force to be reckoned with and. like a Mick Jagger or a Stephen King. he wields massive rockstar-like presence and creates undeniably distinctive art. As Shyamalan becomes a more gifted director and storyteller, I find myself ever anxious to see what other areas of human experience he will choose to command. This particular adventure is spectacular, and I can’t wait to see “Lady in the Water” again.

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