Lady in the Water - On Failing to Fail
I watched M. Night Shyamalan's supposed catastrophe this past weekend and I was underwhelmed at its failure.
In the aftermath of the movie's premiere much was discussed about M. Night's monstrous ego, including juicy details which are compiled in a book about the whole messy production.
Lady in the Water met with hostile reactions from not only movie critics, but also fans of M. Night's previous outings. And it tanked at the box office.
Viewing the film now, (with my expectations extremely lowered,) it is not so horrible, but the reception it received is more than understandable. The film has no real center and it is technically confusing. Without its superior cinematography and the full engagement of lead actor Paul Giamatti, the movie would more than likely be laughable. But with all the resources of a major hollywood release at its disposal this Lady is able to tread water just an inch ahead of drowning.
There is something strangely watchable about the film. Perhaps there are so many expectations raised by its opening sequence. (We will skip the ridiculous drawings that lay out a mythical story before the opening credits. Watership Down did it much better, and tied it into its ending.) Giamatti's handyman visits various quirky people in the apartment apartment building and vague suggestions of some mysterious "splashings" in the complex pool are tossed off.
However, just as you start to settle in ...bam... the eponymous Lady shows up and starts spewing out the plot, literally. This happens a couple of other times during the film as well. We don't know who these people are, why they are important, etc, until they are suddenly slammed/shoe-horned into the plot mechanisms.
This an elaboration/simplification of the themes of Shyamalan's Signs. In his first films, M. Night did well not to highlight the randomness of his plot devices. These randomly generated story elements, (masquerading as actual story craftsmanship,) served him much better in Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, although even in Unbreakable he started to reach towards making his ridiculous, slap-dash, rear-view revelations somehow appear "meaningful."
In Lady in the Water, Shyamalan goes all out, basically proclaiming his "make it up as you go along" method to be deep mythmaking.
You may be surprised then to hear me say that I wished there was more of it. More specifically, I wish Shamalyn hadn't created such a wimp of a disaster. With all of these resources, (Paul Giamatti, great cinematography, Bill Irwin, Jeff Wright and cast of multi-ethnic supporting characters,) why didn't he just go for the gusto and create a massively indulgent failure?
Terry Teachout often prays:" If it can't be good, please let it be short," but I found myself wondering what a juicy treasure Shyamalan would have left if he had made an almost three hour epic about this apartment complex, adding subplots and allowing maybe a half hour to forty minutes till we get to see the Lady.
More monsters, more myths, more of Bob Balaban!
The wunderkind Shyamalan missed his chance if you ask me, and after The Village and Lady he may not get the chance again.
I mean if you are going to make a film about a mythical woman in an apartment complex swimming pool, who is coming to save the world by inspiring a young writer to write a book that will be the equivalent of the Bible and who is ...wait for it...played by YOU, then at least make the movie everything you would expect from such a ego.
He needs to take a few lessons from Oliver Stone who keeps tinkering through DVD release after DVD release of his Alexander.
Come on M. Night! If you are going to bomb, bomb big, bomb sloppy, bomb Heaven's Gate big!