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Early Lady review!

06.26.2006

A few weeks ago, I was one of the lucky few invited to see an early screening of LADY IN THE WATER in New York. M. Night Shyamalan was putting the finishing touches on the sound mix and decided to screen the movie to a small crowd. The screening was held right inside the mixing suite that Shyamalan was using while he sat behind the controls with a few of his technical guys, wife and two kids. After a few opening words from the man himself, the lights dimmed and we were treated to what's being billed as "A Bedtime Story by M. Night Shyamalan."

Before I get into the review, let me warn you that there will be some spoilers. I won't get into real heavy stuff but just in discussing some of the basic plot points your going to give some stuff away. Knowing that, let's move on.

There is a scene near the middle of LADY IN THE WATER where Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), an apartment complex superintendent, is working to investigate where the mysterious girl found in his pool (Bryce Dallas Howard) came from and how he can get her back home. As he begins to realize she may be a living incarnation of a character from a folktale passed on by one of his tenants, he goes to visit the young Asian girl and her mother. He asks to hear the whole story, including how to safely return the so-called narf, but the woman refuses to tell him. Her daughter interprets her Chinese saying she will only tell him if she can think of him as a child. Heep, determined to get his answer, takes a cookie, drinks some milk and curls up on the couch, complete with a milk moustache in his goatee. LADY IN THE WATER is a movie as much about reconnecting with our childhood as it is about narfs, scrunts (villainous wolf creatures that arrive to capture the narf) and other fantastical creatures. It’s M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie and one of his best.

The movie starts with an animated sequence that resembles cave paintings telling the tale – much like the one the Asian woman was about to tell above - of mythical creatures called narfs. We're then introduced to Cleveland Heep, superintendent/manager of the Cove apartment complex in Philadelphia. From the very beginning we’re introduced to a number of interesting characters from the varying apartments – the stoners, the Hispanic family with the five overweight daughters, the creepy recluse, the guy who’s only working out one side of his body. As is par for the course in an M. Night Shyamalan film, seemingly insignificant details (Giamatti’s Heep talks with a pronounced stutter) turn out to be quite important as we learn that a lot of people at The Cove are more than they appear. To say more would be criminal, despite the fact that LADY lacks a twist reminiscent of THE VILLAGE or THE SIXTH SENSE.

The movie, as you may have read, is born out of a tale that Shyamalan used to tell his children based on the simple concept of what goes on in the pool at night. Kids will obviously view LADY in the same light as they would Shyamalan’s original bedtime story; a fascinating and enthralling yarn. Adults, as we see in the film, have lost their childhood innocence and suddenly have a hard time finding such beauty in those tales. But what happens when you’re presented with a situation when you know a bedtime story is true? And you’re forced to reach inside and find that same innocent quality – the willingness to believe – you had when you were a kid. When was the last time we had a great fantasy film to watch? It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen something pull of something that resides so deeply in that genre work so well. LADY IN THE WATER is the best film of its kind since THE PRINCESS BRIDE; another fantasy movie that, coincidentally, also begins with a bedtime story and deals with many of the same themes.

While it is a movie about a bedtime story, there are darker, scarier moments that’ll sure to have you jumping out of your seat (keep an eye out for those damn sprinklers). Those scrunts, with their blood red eyes and grass-like fur, had me a few inches off my seat. And though the death count is relatively low, the film will probably prove a little too intense for the youngest viewers. The movie’s performances are top-notch across the board including another home run for Giamatti, who’s following up award-winning performances in CINDERELLA MAN and SIDEWAYS. Also impressive are Howard, Sarita Choudhury, Jeffrey Wright, Cindy Cheung and Sarita Choudhury who plays the sister of Shyamalan’s character (yes, Shyamalan is back as an actor and while he’s certainly not quite on the level of Giamatti, he’s improving with every film). Like all of Shyamalan’s movies, this one looks and sounds beautiful with James Newton Howard’s score rivaling some of his best work. Like Giamatti’s Heep on the old woman’s couch, LADY IN THE WATER will have you remembering the days when you were on the receiving end of a bedtime story. It will also have you cherishing the time you spend with your own family, including a particularly touching monologue by Giamatti at the end of the film. It’s unfortunate the film wasn’t ready for Father’s Day, because I think it would’ve been a great way for a Dad to spend the day at the movies with his school-age kids. It’s thrilling, moving, scary and, definitely, a lot of fun.
Source: JoBlo.com

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