The marriage of M Night Shyamalan and Disney produced The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. Nevertheless, the fact that Shyamalan took Lady in The Water to Warner Brothers in hopes that the studio would understand and support this latest film, suggests that Disney may have shared the popular consensus of the masses; Shayamalan’s films have lost their novelty; they are misunderstood at best or predictably unpredictable at worst. Warner Brothers willingness to take a risk with Shyamalan created an opportunity for him to prove that there is still originality in the world and that his ideas can translate into box office appeal. With Lady in The Water, an adaptation of a bedtime story Shyamalan authored for his daughters, Shyamalan has succeeded.
Lady in the Water, is a universal story about conflict, problem resolution and self actualization. It stars Paul Giamatti as Cleveland Heep, the superintendent of a residential complex, The Cove, in suburban Philadelphia. Cleveland escapes his demons by immersing in the mundane; routine light fixture and plumbing repairs allow him to live an unassuming life. Unfortunately, an unidentified tenant is swimming in the pool at night and clogging the pool filter, complicating matters for Cleveland. One night Cleveland hears noises emanating from the pool and sets out to catch the culprit. However, what he encounters is totally unexpected, the perpetrator is not a mischievious human, but a narf named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard). Korean college student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung), who shares her college reading with the knowledge hungry Cleveland, narrates the story of the narfs in the Blue World. Cleveland discovers that narfs are the subject of a bedtime story told by Young-Soon’s mother (June Kyoko Lu). Through Young-Soon Cleveland learns that unbeknownst even to her, Story is no ordinary narf, but a madame narf. If Story is seen by the right human, known as the vessel, this event will serve as the impetus for profound changes both on earth and in the Blue World. However Story must return to the Blue World, and her return is impeded by the scrunts, ferocious dog-like creatures who blend in the grass and whose scratches bleed the life from narfs. Cleveland learns that he must identify who amongst The Cove’s tenants possess hidden qualities that will facilitate Story’s journey home. In a race against time, each of these unsuspecting individuals must face their inner struggles, overcome self doubt, and renew their faith in a higher power in the quest to save Story and ultimately themselves.
In his role as Cleveland Giamatti delivers a performance that confirms his previous Oscar nomination was well deserved and that he has what it takes to be a leading man. Reportedly, Giamatti even did his own stunts, including filming the underwater scenes on a Levittown, Pennsylvania set submerged in a 350,000 water tank. Likewise, Bryce Dallas Howard proved Shyamalan’s faith in her innate talent was founded, offering a believable portrayal of an unbelievable character. Also worth mention is Sarita Choudry, whose performance as Anna Ran was equally impressive and enabled Shyamalan, in the Woody Allen vein, to wear two hats of director/actor in a film. Shyamalan’s role of aspiring writer, Vick Ran, is one of the largest roles he has portrayed in any of his films to date, and Shyamalan successfully pulls it off.
The screenplay, described by Shyamalan as his most personal to date, is as impressive as the actors who give it life including Bob Balaban as cynical film critic, Mr. Farber, Freddy Rodriguez as freaky bodybuilder, Reggie, Bill Irwin as skeptic, Mr. Leeds, Jeffrey Wright as doubtful problem solver, Mr. Dury and Mary Beth Hurt as gentile and hopeful, Mrs. Bell. While the typical themes of the Shyamalan film persist, including finding one’s purpose in life and in the universe, the story nevertheless sounds new and has breathed a new life for its storyteller.