The Critical To-Do over Lady in the Water


The cast of the movie Miami Vice hard at work

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.

*½

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.

10 Replies to “The Critical To-Do over Lady in the Water

  1. I don’t know… for whatever it’s worth, Ebert’s “MAMMOTH Mega Review” was actually written by Jim Emerson, rogerebert.com’s editor because our lord and savior is still in the hospital.

    “critics should spend more of their time vocally ripping apart terrible movies instead of mediocre ones.” — careful there big guy, there’s really no need to go out fo their way ripping apart awful movies. The truly awful movies are rather critic-proof to begin with; it’s the mediocre movies that wish to be something more that are the truly offensive. I’ve not seen “Lady in the Water,” but I have no desire to. Realizing what every M. Night Shayamalan movie would end up being like after “Signs” unhinged around 15 minutes from the end has given me no reason to see any of his movies since. These ‘movies wishing to be more’ absolutely deserve their treatment, and “Lady in the Water” is one of those movies.

  2. Alright. If movies that “wish to be more” deserve worse reviews than utter crap, then everyone should’ve given “Chronicles of Riddick” (that’s hitting below the belt) worse reviews than “Corky Romano” (this worst waste of ninety minutes of my life this side of “Big Bully”). Chronicles took itself way too seriously, was a bit hard to follow (why did they end up on that planet where daylight would kill you?…maybe I just wasn’t paying attention but I barely remember half of it), and was intended to be the first in a series of movies that nobody cared about (to the point where they changed the title of Pitch Black to Chronicles of Riddick:Pitch Black), and nobody went to see. Oh and don’t forget one of the most elaborate studio sets ever built.

    If I was a reviewer though, I would definitely advise people to see RIddick over Romano because they probably wouldn’t want to rip their eyeballs out at the end of it. I would make it my quest to make sure that nobody sees movies like these, so that people (read:Rob Schneider) stop making them.

    I would rather give some credit to people who are trying something new and aspiring to bigger things (whether or not they completely succeed…. if they don’t I’ll fault them for it, but still give them some credit for trying), rather than let sloppily-made, unfunny movies continue to prosper.

    And since when have critics been known to bash pretentious, boring movies, even if they’re bad (Gosford Park, Matchpoint anyone?)? All you need to do is fill your cast with snooty English types and it’s critical gold. It’s as if they don’t want to come across as not knowing anything about reviewing. But that’s beside the point.

  3. oddly enough, Chronicles of Riddick came on TV about an hour after I posted that comment. I watched the whole thing, and came to the conclusion that I was correct.

  4. They ended up on the daylight-will-kill-you planet because … I think they’re planning on storing Riddick there, but I have much better things to do with my time than watch a heavily-commercialed version of an overwrought science fiction/fantasy “epic.”

    The Chronicles of Riddick actually reached for something and succeeded on some counts (if only for the visual of the bad guy ships hitting the planet at the beginning at the planet being destroyed radially from each impact point). Movies like Corky Romano (and I wager, Lady in the Water) fail on all counts. These are movies that are offensive to watch due to the makers’ goals being so out-of-touch with what they were capable of doing. The Chronicles of Riddick wasn’t offensive in any regard; it just wasn’t the highest quality example of science fiction/fantasy epic. They were trying something new with the movie (it’s a risky move to try to start a science fiction franchisefrom scratch, with no books, TV shows, etc., etc. to draw from. And most importantly no existing fanbase outside of the small (but enthusiastic) group of fans for the first. The Chronicles of Riddick was not made with a pretentious goal in mind, unlike Lady in the Water. Dan 2, Nate 0.5.

  5. I’m not understanding your basis for saying that Riddick wasn’t pretentious while Lady in the Water was. Just saying it doesn’t make it true. In fact, if you’re talking about the filmmakers’ goals being set higher than what they can accomplish, I think Twohy was in way more over his head than Shayamalan was. Night has at least proven himself in the past, and still continues to succeed as a director. It’s as a writer that he fails. In regards to Riddick, I think he might’ve failed on both accounts, while rippinging off of Dune, and creating a story so dreadfully boring (mostly caused by the fact that the middle 45 minutes don’t even include the main bad guys) that I was paying more attention to stories on NY1 (granted that’s what my job is) that I had already watched two times that day. If you can’t see that movie as attempting to be more than it was, look no further than the last shot of the credits, a giant image of a gold statue of Vin Diesel, sitting on throne, with minions bowing down before him. At least at the end of Lady in the Water, all the characters were still schlubs.

    And one shot at the beginning of a movie doesn’t make it good.

    Lastly, I’m not too sure about the “high ambitions” that they had with Corky Romano. To say that it was offensive because they were out-of-touch with what they were capable of doing is 100 percent wrong. They know exactly what their type of humor is, and the studio execs know that if it’s made for cheap enough, they’ll get a positive return on it. They’re not expecting to break the bank, or create the best comedy of all time; they’re just trying to earn a living. And that’s my problem, people who are in positions where they shouldn’t be complacent with crap like that, but are. The people who greenlight these movies by mediocre at best celebrities fail society as gatekeepers, instead relying on the fact that a few idiots keep going to see these things to make their decisions. M Night has a good history before the last fifteen minutes of Signs, but the Wayanseses have NEVER had a good history, aside from the one guy’s Requiem for a Dream role, going all the way back to BLANKMAN. These are people who don’t care about doing anything unique and different, a worse offense than a high ambition project that only partially succeeds.

    And I appreciate the .5, but I think it should be 1 to 1.

  6. @Nate, I have to disagree with you.

    1) You can’t give Shyamalan (good job to both you and Dan for consistently misspelling his name *grin*) credit by mere virtue of the fact that he tried to do something different. I think he deserves credit for actually fulfilling what he set out to do; I don’t think that “Lady” is anything less than the fulfillment of the movie he wanted to make.

    2) I think you and Dan are probably about at 3 to 1, respectively.

    You addressed a number of points that I did not think were relevent in my own review, but they are valid and reasoned nonetheless. My hat is off to you for a more respectful and thoughtful review than the reviews I’ve seen.

    @Dan, I’m disappointed you’ve written off “Lady” so casually. I really do think that you’re missing out on a fun movie.

  7. Kurt: You’re obviously fundamentally wrong on all counts. And you keep it up, we’ll send our secret weapon out to review kurtmckee.org.

    Nate: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I can’t believe that I missed it, but do I see you shortening “The Chronicles of RIddick” to “Riddick?” And what’s this? Calling it “Chronicles” later on? This will not stand. Take it back now. I don’t recall you being on “most elaborate studio sets ever built,” where you might earn the right to shorten the title. And then calling M. Night Shymalan “Night” — you know the guy or something? I’d expect no less than “Mr. Fuller” or “Mr. Brown” from him, so let’s stop pretending he’s your buddy.

    And, the final image wasn’t a golden statue of Riddick sitting on the throne; it was Riddick himself on the throne, saying “You keep what you kill,” which is pretty much the theme of the bad guys. You may say, “But you’re avoiding the actual points of my argument and just focusing on what are really inconsequential factual errors, Dan.” Yeah, you might say that.

    About the Wayanseses: Sorry to say this, but the fact that White Chicks made $74 million helped to fund a lot of movies Sony knew wouldn’t be that profitable… like the upcoming Spiderman 3 and this summer’s indie gem, “Click” (or for a more serious pick, “Closer” though I haven’t seen it to judge whether it transcended its “indie darling” hype).

  8. I guess there’s no excuses for my first transgression, except that I was just trying to save typing time and make something sound better, rather than pulling the pretentious NY Times “Mr.” Shayamalan.

    As far as the second goes, if you read what I actually wrote “look no further than the last shot of the credits”, there’s no way you’re gonna say I’m wrong about that.

    Thirdly, I have no idea about the tone of your last paragraph. I’m assuming that you’re being sarcastic, but as far as “Closer”, I fell asleep like four times during that movie, only to be woken up each time by characters screaming at each other. I think it’s just one of those movies for the indie crowd and Natalie Portman fans.

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