If you keep tabs on the movie world, you’re probably aware that right now, two sort of big deal stories are going on between critics and directors. The first one involves Joel Siegel making a big to-do and walking out on a screening of Clerks 2, and then being called out by Kevin Smith on the Opie and Anthony radio show. Interestingly enough, Smith’s going to be filling in for Roger Ebert on the “Ebert and Roeper” show this weekend. The second one is a little more high-profile, mostly because the movie’s director is a little more mainstream.
M. Night Shayamalan’s new movie “Lady in the Water” was released into the wild this past Friday, and was met with mostly bad reviews. Strike that; terrible reviews. Strike even that: Reviews that not only claimed that the movie was bad, but “a charmless, unscary, fatuous and largely incoherent fairy tale“, or “idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental… [and] pretentious, paralyzing twaddle” among other things. The movie pretty much received pans across the board, with rottentomatoes counting only 28 “positive” reviews out of 130 total, with nearly all of the major papers/writers, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and in probably the best-written of all of them, Roger Ebert’s MAMMOTH Mega-Review, completely tearing the movie apart.
Movies get bad reviews all the time though. Just look at the 15 percent that Little Man got on Rottentomatoes, or the 20 percent that You, Me and Dupree got. The difference in these reviews though is that they’re written about the movies themselves. They’re not out there angrily insulting the Wayanses, or whoever was behind the latest Owen Wilson vehicle.
With such terribly scorching reviews claiming that Shayamalan has basically declared himself a god, and that this movie is the “biggest ego-trip” ever devoted to celluloid, I was terribly worried about going to see it. But you know what? I enjoyed it. I didn’t take any of it seriously, because I knew that much of it would involve highly elaborate mythology that was quite silly. I didn’t care though. The movie looked good, was well-acted, and paced well for what was written, which by proxy means that it was directed well. Was it written well? That’s a matter of opinion, and usually that opinion is no. I’d say it’s serviceable while watching it, but the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Ignoring the overelaborate mythology for a second, there’s the way most all of the characters are said to have a specific purpose, and I guess that’s true to an extent, if you count being a red-herring, or standing around watching something as purposes. There are a lot of characters and they are diverse, and so in order to get their personas across in such a short time, he uses some stereotypes, which I don’t mind, but seems to be another cause for the death sentence he’s being handed. To me, the worst part of the writing was the obnoxiously expositional way that the “mythology” was told to the main character and how easily he and the rest of the people in the apartment complex believe it. Yes there are flaws, but while you’re watching it, it’s for the most part an enjoyable film. I’d give it two and a half stars, out of five.
It seems though that the only person who really shares my sentiment is the guy from the Boston Globe. Everyone else seems to be caught up in this M. Night-hating party that’s all the trend. It’s one thing to criticise the movie, but they’re taking aim straight at him for being a complete egomaniac who won’t listen to other people’s ideas and who presents himself as a savior. What’s their basis for these accusations?
Well, first of all, there’s this book that some guy wrote about why Touchstone Pictures (read:Disney) didn’t want to make this movie unless changes were made. Supposedly he refused to make the changes and they walked away, leading him to go to Warner, where they let him have free reign. Secondly, he likes to cast himself in his movies. That’s not a secret. People who thought he was full of it for casting himself in the role he had in Signs will probably be even angrier at this role. It’s not the size of the role that seems to be bothering critics though; it’s the importance of it. He’s cast himself as the person whom the Lady has come to see, whom she’s come to inspire to write a great piece of literature that will cause a great change in the world. Critics have seen this as the ultimate sign of messianic aspirations.
What angers them the most though is the idea that he had the guts to throw in a character who’s a movie critic. He’s cold and unfeeling, snooty, likes to talk about annoying movie conventions, and (this isn’t much of a spoiler because it’s been talked about and the character isn’t important anyway) he dies.
My take on the whole thing is “Why should I care about this book?”. This goes for both the people who put it out, and the reviewers who care to bring it up in every review. They see the book as being a publicity stunt for the movie, and not the possibility that the book people might want to put it out when the movie comes out as a publicity stunt FOR THE BOOK. Even if it was the case, I don’t see why these movie critics chose to review him instead of his film. When “War of the Worlds” came out, critics didn’t say anything about Tom Cruise’s shennanigans. In fact, they all liked the movie, even though the story was terrible and had more plotholes than both Lady in the Water and The Village combined.
As far as casting himself goes, I don’t mind. I find his acting competely fine for the roles he’s cast himself in. He’s usually cast himself in inconsequential parts, and in his most emotional role in Signs, he was perfectly serious and brooding. His delivery seemed natural and all. In this movie, I understand the reasons why they’d think that he was full of himself for putting himself in the role that he was in. But he was perfectly capable in the part. When he wrote it, he knew that he was going to be playing a fictional version of himself, or maybe how he seems himself. But criticizing him for doing this is like complaining about Eminem in 8 Mile, or Woody Allen in that movie with “Humphrey Bogart”. Acting-wise they could do a lot worse, and any no-name actor would’ve been just as good.
As far as the last issue, I actually agree with the critics. The character is useless in serving the story, except to provide some “wink wink”-type moments meant to criticize both the lack of originality in movies, and the pretensiousness of movie critics. At the same time however, the criticisms that the character has of movies seem to all appear in the film. Examples include characters talking aloud to themselves (ironically, this is done by the critic himself, when confronted with an angry creature), “seemingly unimportant” characters actually being “important“, and the climax taking place in a rain storm. He’s simultaneously written himself into a corner AND been brilliant about it. It’s as if halfway through it he realized that plot elements were too convenient, and so he needed a way to say “I know that that these things are too cliche”. While I understand the character’s “purpose” in the story, it would’ve been better off had he decided to either fix the story issues, or get take the character out entirely. The critic is basically the lazy way out.
I guess my thought about the whole thing is that with such bad reviews, I figured I’d be squirming at how terrible it was, or want to walk out on it, or rip my ticket up out of anger. I didn’t, and I think that for critics to go this ballistic is unnecessary, especially attacking the director, and not the movie itself.
For the amount of complaining that everyone does about how there is nothing new and unique that ever gets a big release, or all the gratingly bad horror movies, or Wayans Brothers projects that keep coming out, M. Night is ALWAYS putting out something different and unique. People should at least give him credit for attempting something like this, even if there were majorly unresolved story issues.
The critics’ response to Lady in The Water gets one and a half stars for having a few legitimate issues with the movie to complain about, but instead opting to attack the director for off-screen dealings and the role he’s cast himself in, nevermind about whether he was a capable actor in the role. I think that critics should spend more of their time vocally ripping apart terrible movies instead of mediocre ones.