Friday, July 21, 2006

Lady in a Watery Grave of Storytellng

He has lost his mind.

As Mark Shea is fond of saying, "Sin makes you crazy." I don't presume to know the complete condition of Shyamalan's soul, but clearly, egomania has taken hold and so he has lost his grip on reality. In this case, the demanding and wonderful realities of the essentials of narrative filmmaking.

I remembered, somewhere in the first ten minutes of Lady in the Water that I had pledged back in the last ten minutes of The Village that I would never be coaxed to spend any more money buying this director's movies. And then it was just a matter of time before I got the energy to propel myself out of my seat.

I walked out of Lady in the Water about mid-point of the film, when it had become embarrasingly apparent that the filmmaker was splashing around this pathetic unstory, desperately caught in the undertow of his own hype. I left when it was clear that nothing could happen in the remaining hour to salvage the first half's perfect storm of narrative, character and thematic elements from devolving into a level 5 typhoon of cinematic pretension and absurdity.

What was that great insult of the Wizard to Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz? Oh yeah, this film is a "clinking, clanking, collection of calligenous junk!" But maybe I haven't expressed myself strongly enough here...

There is really nothing in Lady for the audience. It is all about Shyamalan in an icky kind of valentine to himself as a writer. He says the kind of things about himself in this film that people should let others say about them. But they will NEVER say them about this guy. You can quote me.

The greatest emotional response the film evoked from me was a monumental chortle when I recalled Robin on Good Monring America yesterday referring to Shyamalan as a "Master of Suspense". HA!

How bad is it?....Hmmmmm.... I'd rather watch a Peter Jackson film fest 20 hour marathon then a half hour of anything Shyamalan has done since Sixth Sense. And those of you who know me, know what I'm saying here...

There is nothing scary in this film. The audience I was with actually laughed at a couple of moments that were supposed to be scary, but were so badly executed that it was a cause of sneering. There is nothing offensive from a moral standpoint - unless one considers, as I do, that bad art is a moral problem. Lady is just really, really, monstrously bad storytelling.

The only thing this movie does is confirm that M. Night is class A, textbook, laughing all the way to the bank, one hit wonder. [read in the little girl whisper they've had on the TV trailers:] Pass. Pass. Passsssssssssssssssssssssssss.


Anonymous said...

Well Duh. If you walk out in the middle of most films they seem dumb. And it is M. Knight's first film where he isn't trying to freak you out the whole movie. It is a good story of people coming together to help. Or as someone i know would say, "A community, that is SOOOOO C.L." This is the first review I have read yours and if this is haw you review movie you need to take up a different profession.
Walking out in the middle of it.

Jennifer said...

Hey Barb,

I'm a fan of yours but I have to wildly disagree with you here--this movie has a slow draw-in but the "clanky, calligenous junk" of the movie is an intended irony that does redeem itself--not inspite of your increduilty but because of it--by the end.

Shayamalan fully expects the story he is writing to be transparent and hollow and too leaden to ever take flight in the first half. It's an irony. Becoming a child and believing in fairy tales is difficult--especially when we are jaded and know character and plots so well. An issue that Shayamalan takes pointed jabs at all the way through. Did you miss them?

My field's theatre--I've written extensively on narratology during my PhD--and I'm not seeing what is irking you so in his story telling, which I find to be extraordinary, even in the Village, which, I'll admit was one of his weaker efforts.

Can you be more specific? This sounds like a hate letter to Shayamalan rather than a critique. What gives? I didn't really see the odes to self you see either. Where specifically?

Giamatti gives an Oscar worthy performance near the end. I'm so sorry you missed it. I don't know what theatre you saw it in. But people jumped out of their chairs at least two times where I was and a couple of folks were sobbing near the end.

Ode to self upcoming, I warn you, but I wrote a play once that employed self-reflexive irony in a similar way, that relied on clunky device to draw attention to itself. My play, too, had a dramatic reversal in the second act and I believe redeemed--and explained--the irony of the first half. Those critics that remained liked it and "got it".

Those that left before the second act wrote me similar hate letters in which my "egomania" was torn to shreds as well. I was left blinking and incredulous---why the personal attack? Maybe it was just really, really bad, and I do consider it a failure if so many failed to pick up the clues that there was a self-reflexive mockery going on--but again, I know there were some that got it and some that didn't. I think everyone would have got it---though perhaps STILL not liked it--had they given the second half a shot.

Self-reflexive irony is very complicated to pull off in writing--a piece that points to its own form, and even mocks itself, seems to grate particularly fiercely if it isn't received as irony. What was intended to be sophisticated can quickly melt to maudlin in the mind of the receiver. It's a creative risk.

I realize once something strikes someone as THIS bad, NOTHING another says really has a hope of doing anything except further annoy the loather---but I will say I think you missed some MAJOR points of the narrative structure.

I find this really interesting...I agree with you a lot of the time (though I loved Jackson's Lord of the Rings so we clearly disagree on some fundamental points) but this really came out of left field for me. Really surprised at our difference here.

Anonymous said...

I am your average movie go-er, I attend often and I don't discriminate on genre, I like most of them from action to love to thrillers.

I don't have the beautiful written talent of Jennifer, but as the average movie go-er, I have to say that I very much enjoyed Lady In The Water. I enjoyed the simplicity of it, I enjoyed seeing more of M Knight in it. I enjoyed how much it caused me to revel in the unity of the players in the second half.

And it's my belief that if you are going to a critic of something, you should at least, out of professional courtesy, watch the whole thing.

Its much like someone saying "Christ was just a man" because they never finished reading the Gospel and don't know of His Resurrection.