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Lady in the Water

A movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

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Not nearly as bad as some say, with an excellent performance by Paul Giamatti

  • Jan 28, 2007
Shyamalan's films are somewhat quirky and offbeat and very much draw upon his own idiosyncratic (but neither entirely original or totally out there) sense of what kinds of stories ought to be told. They usually don't conform to the standard Hollywood storytelling model, which means there are gaps and inconsistencies and odd duck characters and miscues that aren't entirely justified or the structure of the films is slanted without a clear "beginning" "middle" and "end" or where a "twist" takes the place of a genuinely motivated character arc -- in general in his case this is not a good thing but every once in a while it gives a fresh and unique edge to his films. "Lady in the Water" was no exception -- and it was clear from the beginning that Shyamalan didn't want to make concessions: he set up a cast of "misfits" and contrived a story that would bring them together under a common cause, and wasn't worried about mixing genres or stretching the limits of plausibility or giving his characters enough evidence for us to believe that they would believe in and embrace this cause at the peril of their lives. This is a story about abandoning oneself to believe in the power of stories, about suspending disbelief and letting the storyteller tell her story however ludicrous its implications become. (What is odd is that he seems to want to say that if we can just abandon ourselves to stories we will be better people and there will be less war, etc. -- but of course it is often the willingness to accept stories about "good" and "evil" without fact that gets us so riled up about going to war in the first place). In any case there is something obviously self-serving and a bit naive about the premise of the story -- and the self-reference is as blatant as it can get in this film, since Shyamalan himself acted the part of the writer who was going to write a lot of strange things that would not be accepted at first but eventually would change the world through the power of belief (not to mention the one person who gets "eaten" in this film is a film critic who can't write anything himself but likes to criticize films for lacking neat plots and stories, i.e. one who wouldn't have liked "The Village" or this film). Still, as stories tinged with the fantastic go I enjoyed this one (it's a better film than "Signs," which did much better at the box office). It worked even better for me on the small screen when I watched it again with a couple of my children on dvd. There I wasn't so bothered by the obviously grandiose delusions of the film (and its filmmaker) -- but just enjoyed, most of all, the undeniably fascinating and powerful performance at the heart of this film by Paul Giamatti, one of the most consistently strong supporting actors in Hollywood, here given center stage. Three stars for the film, and five stars for Giamatti give this film my four star rating.

The way I think of M. Night Shyamalan's films is that he is like a small budget independent filmmaker who happens to have big budgets. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad. He tells small stories that appeal to a niche audience -- but luckily for him that niche has coincided with a fairly large number of Americans: mostly sci-fi/fantasy lovers and "believers" who like their fantasy movies to hint at transcendence (the afterlife, etc.) Where this is a drawback is that weaknesses in plot or limitations in scope or unconventional stories that you could forgive (or even celebrate as an alternative) in a small budget independent film are hard to accept in a glossy big budget feature put out by Disney or another major studio. Watching "Signs," for example, it struck me that I would have liked it much better if it hadn't had such big name actors and hadn't obviously had such a large budget. It feels like a "small film" about a crisis of faith and an identity crisis, but its science fiction premise overwhelmed this rather than working seamlessly with it. (Unlike, say, Spielberg's "Close Encounters" -- a film that was able to manage both intimacy with the characters and a global science fiction premise). Shyamalan obviously has visual talent and the ability to coax exceptional performances from his actors and has been lucky enough to hit upon a few stories that resonated enough at the box office that he has been given free range for quite a few films. Plus, the studios he has worked for have had the good sense to market his films as being different and as expressing his unique vision. I don't know how much longer that is going to work for him, though -- with films like this one and his previous one that have had diminishing returns in the box office he may have to turn to creating the kinds of independent and low budget but high concept films that he would have been making if he hadn't had the good luck to have the right actors and the right kind of buzz that made "Sixth Sense" a smashing success.

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November 18, 2010
Excellent review
More Lady in the Water reviews
review by . November 05, 2009
Pros: Unique story, good acting, music, style     Cons: Not much     The Bottom Line: This won't be the right cup of tea for some Shyamalan fans, but if you like his style and can handle a bit of urban fantasy, you're good to go.     When people hear M. Night Shyamalan's name, they think scary.  They think dead people and bizarre twists.  So I think when people saw the trailer for Lady in the Water, they were confused.  When …
review by . June 08, 2009
Lady in the Water
Lady in the Water is easily an old school Steven Spielberg-esque film. Shyamalan has given us Cleveland Heap, who in true ET style,  is going to help a young woman make her way back home. There are, of course, enemies that stand in there way, but that is nothing compared to the lack of self-confidence in their ability to carry out this mission. Thankfully, they have an eclectic cast of supporting characters that will each in their own colorful way help these two do what they are meant to do.   & …
review by . November 17, 2008
Based on an ancient story   Of a Blue World we forgot   When mankind turned away from peace   Bringing decay and rot     To save us all, the story goes   A messenger is sent   Awakening a human to   Forestall our sharp descent     Of course there is a darker force   A creature full of hate   Sent to destroy the messenger   So we can't change our fate     A …
review by . June 01, 2008
Pros: Original and well acted.     Cons: Hard to see at times because of the low light.     The Bottom Line: Well, I want to see it again soon. I think that this is a movie that bears repeat watching to catch the fine detail.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. M. Night Shyamalan returns again with another dark twisted tale that makes us question some of our basic beliefs.       …
review by . September 30, 2007
Pros: Well acted, especially the every adorable Bryce Dallas Howard     Cons: Lacks energy; weak script; too far-fetched     The Bottom Line: M. Night Shyamalan is coasting along on reputation alone.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I loved The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 break out hit. The movie was mysterious, engaging and seriously frightening. None of the Indian born writer …
review by . June 27, 2007
I have seen every M. Night Shyamalan movie and like most people I have also had my share of problems with them as well. No matter what you think of him or his films he will no doubt always give an interesting story and he does so with Lady in the Water. Like one of the characters say in this film "the world no longer has any originality" I definitely agree. With Lady in the Water you get complete originality with a weird array of characters. Paul Giamatti (Cleveland Heep) plays a building manager …
review by . January 18, 2007
From all the previews, I was expecting a real horror story ... NOT! Although I enjoyed some of the actors and thought Giametti, as the building manager, and Howard as the water nymph, were suited for their roles, this movie was too slow in getting started.    Once I figured out what was going on and got past the large cast of characters involved, it turned out to be fairly enjoyable ... but I had to view it as a semi-comedy instead of the horror movie that I expected.    Exce …
review by . March 16, 2007
The Lady in the title is named Story, and is played by Bryce Dallas Howard. The water is literally an apartment swimming pool, but is really the blue world that is Earth. The story of this movie is relationship between the apt superintendent and Story. She rescues him from drowning at the beginning of the movie, he then rescues her from the wolf. Later she sees into his troubled heart and rescues his soul by giving someone to care for again; her. At the end he rescues her by assembling the apartment …
review by . January 16, 2007
M. Night Shyamalan has provide us another interesting film. His earlier works have been very cynical, and sometimes dark which I had fun watching. This film, in the other hand, ventures away from that and the characters are in a dissimilar light. M. Night somehow made a movie that is compatible with children, and just as compatible with the adult. The humor doesn't lose its touch halfway through the movie, and in some respects the humor adds to the sadness. The opening tells us that this is a children's …
review by . December 26, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
LADY IN THE WATER is a very tough film to review. M. Night Shyamalan is doubtless a new thinker and has produced some original and interesting films (none of which equal the promise of his first one THE SIXTH SENSE) and LADY IN THE WATER has some very good aspects. It is just such a mixed bag, full of holes and hints of personal vendettas that it ultimately fails to achieve what it sets out to do.    The opening sequence tells a tale in charming line drawings about how we all …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #29
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (, and am co-director of … more
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Or, if you prefer,I See Wet People. M. Night Shyamalan's attempt at a newfangled mythology--about a depressed apartment superintendent (Paul Giamatti) who discovers a sea-nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) who may hold the key to humanity's hopeful future--is intriguing enough to capture the imaginations of children and adults who haven't lost sight of their innocent sense of wonder. Cynics, on the other hand, will likely scoff at Shyamalan's awkward fantasy, which includes one victim--a film critic--widely interpreted as Shyamalan's revenge against reviewers who pannedThe Village. Shyamalan originally improvised this melancholy fantasy as a bedtime story for his children; unfortunately, it still feels mostly half-baked and ultimately ineffective due to a number of plot holes and inconsistencies that a writer as talented as Shyamalan should've been able to avoid. For those wishing to learn more about the film's troubled history, and Shyamalan's petulant split from Disney studios,The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Taleis an interesting read.--Jeff Shannon
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