Awfully Good: Lady in the Water + After Earth (Video)

From THE HAPPENING to THE LAST AIRBENDER, M. Night Shyamalan is no stranger to this column. And judging by THE VISIT, I’m guessing that will be the case for a long time to come…

The Lady in the Water (2006)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright


An apartment manager finds a Narf in his pool and must help her save the world before the Great Eatlon comes to get her. But first he has to protect her from a Scrunt, who is hunting the Narf and disobeying the rules clearly defined by the Tartutic.

Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on either. 

LADY IN THE WATER was a turning point for M. Night Shyamalan. While some hated the ending of SIGNS and laughed at THE VILLAGE’s twist, after the release of this movie, the man’s name truly became a joke instead of a brand. It also represents a pinnacle in the filmmaker’s legendary hubris, including Shyamalan ditching longtime collaborator Disney for Warner Bros. after studio head Dick Cook admitted he didn’t “get” the script. According to the behind-the-scenes book “The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale,” Shyamalan took personal offense to this and pouted that Disney “no longer valued individualism.” At least they valued making good business decisions.

The annual BIG FAT LIAR Fan Convention was an emotional time for everyone. 

As a film, LADY IN THE WATER is one of the rare Awfully Good movies that’s so bad it manages to simultaneously suck on multiple levels. The basic plot sucks, the underlying subtext on human nature sucks, and its self-referential critique on the nature of storytelling and film, unsurprisingly, sucks. There’s so much sucking going on in this movie that it should’ve been released by Dyson, not Warner Bros. 

A little part of Peter wasn’t that surprised to hear that Rufio had faked his death to return to Earth and live life as a woman.

Shyamalan originally created this as a bedtime story for his children and it completely feels like something a drunk father would make up to put his kids to bed after stumbling home from Applebees:

“So there’s this magical girl called a Narf who comes from an enchanted world called the, um, Blue World. Yes, Narf like Pinky and the Brain. Also, her name is…Story. Yes, like the one I’m telling you now. It’s a coincidence. Anyways, Story is not just any Narf. She’s a Madam Narf that’s come to our world to inspire us to elect better political leaders in the future. How does she get to our world? Well, um, through a magic portal in an apartment complex swimming pool. Stop asking questions. So Story is being chased by a two-dimensional werewolf covered in grass called a Scrunt. She’s supposed to be protected by a group of invisible monkeys covered in sticks called the—uhhhh—Tartutic, but the Scrunt is attacking her anyways because he’s a dick. I mean, a meanieface. And she needs our help as humans to get her magical mud called Kii to heal her and get her back to her world. No, she doesn’t just go back home through the pool portal. A giant freakin’ eagle comes to fly her away. Are you happy? Shut up and go to sleep.”

This is exactly what it feels like to experience LADY IN THE WATER. It’s so stupid and overly-complicated it requires both an animated introduction as well as constant exposition dumps for any of it to make sense. 

No one blamed Paul for drinking heavily on set. 

I feel bad for everyone involved with this, but Paul Giamatti especially. Giamatti was still coming off critically acclaimed turns in both AMERICAN SPLENDOR and SIDEWAYS when this was released in 2006. And he does an admirable job trying to make the most of stuttering handyman Cleveland Heep, but is dragged down by some truly lazy scripting decisions that make his character completely pointless. As soon as Cleveland meets Story, she uses her magical Narf powers to completely lay out his entire backstory and character arc in one brief conversation, saving the movie from having to do any of the actual work. And if that’s not enough, instead of organically revealing the film’s mystical elements in a meaningful, emotional way, Shyamalan instead uses the age-old storytelling device known as—Asian People. As soon as Cleveland finds a weird creature in his pool, he immediately goes to ask his Korean neighbors about it and of course they know exactly what is going on to a T. (Because Narf, Scrunt and Tartutic  definitely sound like terms from a Korean folk legend.)

What a real-life 40 year old virgin would look like. 

LADY IN THE WATER also contains some gobbledygook about characters called the Symbolist, Guardian, Guild, and Healer, but it’s all just an excuse to waste great actors like Jeffrey Wright (as a guy who “hears God” through crossword puzzles), Jared Harris (as a stoner whose destiny it is to throw a party with his stoner friends) and Freddy Rodriquez (as a man who only works out one side of his body, making him a muscular version of Two-Face). However, all of that pales in comparison to the film’s greatest supporting actor—M. Night Shyamalan himself as The Writer! The entire reason Story has come to our world is to motivate Shyamalan to finish his novel called The Cookbook, a tome containing his personal thoughts on what’s wrong with society, culture and world leaders. This work will apparently inspire a child who will grow up to become the future President and use Shyaalan’s teachings to lead the world in to an age of peace and prosperity. Also, Shyamalan will be murdered because of his radical teachings, so he’s pretty much Jesus. It’s hard to imagine anything more self-serving than the filmmaker making this vanity project in the first place, but casting himself as a Christ figure whose creative output will literally change the world is almost unfathomable. 

Every night M. Night Shyamalan takes 30 minutes to sit in quiet solitude and think about his greatness. 

But we’re not done yet! If that wasn’t enough, Shyamalan also had the foresight to literally take out any critics who oppose him. The beginning of the film introduces a new tenant to the apartment complex, a douchey film reviewer played by Bob Balaban. Throughout the movie, Giamatti consults with the critic to try and guess how what comes next in their story. When these typical conventions don’t play out in the end, Shyamalan actually has a character say, “Who would be so arrogant to know the intention of another human being?” (If that’s not a direct dig from filmmaker to critic, I don’t know what is.) To really drive the point home though, the critic is immediately murdered by the Scrunt after delivering a meta-monologue about the banality of death scenes in cinema. Good Lord, this movie…

Boy, if you thought Hulk dogs were stupid…

And in case you were wondering, none of the crazy stuff discussed here is a metaphor or subtle cinematic device. The film literally ends with the grass werewolf being attacked by three wood monkeys while a giant eagle flies away with Ron Howard’s daughter. If you think that sounds cool, it’s somehow not. Shyamalan finds a way to shoot it in the dark and the rain so you can’t really see anything. In fact, I have no idea how this movie cost $70 million to make, given that the entire thing takes place in one visually uninteresting location with creatures that are mostly invisible. What a waste. 

“Forget the Indominus Rex, how do I get out of this movie?”

The Korean girl tries to explain the plot to Paul Giamatti. See if you can follow along. BONUS: Some of M. Night Shyamalan’s “acting.”

The Critic’s painfully self-referential death, the showdown between grass wolf and tree monkey, and two of Paul Giamatti’s more embarrassing moments. 

Bryce Dallas Howard takes a very not-sexy shower. 

Narf! Zort! Poit! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Paul Giamatti stutters
  • Paul Giamatti holds his breath for way too long
  • Young-Soon Choi says “Goodbye Mr. Heep”
  • Someone is not the least bit surprised that there’s a mystical creature in the apartment building
  • Deus Ex Machina by monkey happens

Double shot if:

  • There’s a twist

Thanks to Victor for suggesting this week’s movie!

Don’t “take off” just yet! We’ve got one more M. Night Shyamalan gem to unravel in this week’s Awfully Good Movie’s video column. Host Jesse Shade takes you on a journey back to Earth with Mr. Will Smith and his adoring tyke, Jaden Smith, in what the former calls his “most painful failure.”

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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