Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, M. Night Shyamalan

Year: 2006

Lady in the Water is to M. Night Shyamalan as Phantom Menace is to George Lucas; an obviously weaker attempt at an established genre, but one that’s saved by its innocence and its target audience.  They are both movies for kids, movies that are meant to get kids interested in a style that they might not have otherwise dived into, and that alone is worth …something.  That doesn’t make them great films, obviously, because they aren’t, that’s for sure.  But it does make them worthwhile, at least as a gateway, and those looking for reason to enjoy can start there.  In defense of weak sauce, the positives don’t all end at “kids can get on board”; there are things to like about even the lesser offerings of excellent filmmakers, and Lady in the Water is a case in point.

Cleveland Heep is the maintenance man at a Philadelphia apartment complex and he hates his life.  Since the occurrence of a past tragic event, he’s lived a simple life of work and of solitude, getting along nicely with the tenants but not making real connections.  One night, while investigating a recurring splash in the communal swimming pool, Cleveland sees a naked girl shoot out of the water and immediately disappear back in.  He soon finds out that this is no ordinary girl, but a storybook creature, incidentally named ‘Story’, who is on a very important mission. She needs to fulfill her inspirational task and then return to her secret home, but she’ll need the help of the tenants to accomplish the dangerous assignment.  Cleveland needs to find the right people for the jobs before it’s too late, because a viscous animal is coming to put a stop to Story’s world-changing quest.

So, it’s not the best.  Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village; these are all so much better examples of what Shyamalan can do so brilliantly, and I’m not just talking about twists, I’m talking about making movies.  He’s an extremely talented filmmaker, beyond the scares and the surprises, and I don’t think we focus on that enough, but we really ought to.  This simply isn’t the best he can do, or, more specifically, this isn’t the most grown up he can do; Lady in the Water might be rated PG-13, similarly to his other films, but it’s on a lower, more accessible level, not only because it’s less terrifying but because it’s much easier to consume/digest.  It’s a silly story filled with silly people, it’s got some good heart and a good ending; it isn’t Shakespeare but it will do.  Giamatti picks it up whenever it falters, Howard looks so weird she almost messes everything up, but the power of M. Night’s character’s story line is so pivotal that it gets us back on board, and all is saved by a succession of visuals that not many directors have the eye to develop.  Basically, this film is passable, especially in certain ways and for certain audiences, but it in no way stacks up to the more-famous rest.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆