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Lady In The Water review

The trouble with Lady In The Water is that it’s been made by the wrong director. Shyamalan’s shadowy, brooding style – all seasick framing and whiplash melodrama – weaves a weird and wonderful tapestry, provided the theme stays just on the right side of adult. Here, though, the movie’s surface concept is way too cute for its grown-up guts. It’s gagging for a Gondry – or even a Gilliam – to draw out the magic and wonder.

For once, Shyamalan’s ear for sly allegory seems off, overplayed. Where he aims for melancholy, he hits dour. When he reaches for metaphor, he stumbles over silliness. With, say, Unbreakable, the superhero/supervillain angle was all just misdirection for the main point: a damned good wallow in an emotionally impotent father’s mid-life crisis – and how he eventually rouses himself. Lady In The Water, though, is something more saccharine. Giamatti is, like most of Shyamalan’s heroes, lost and lonely. But in conjuring up such an ethereal solution, he poses more questions than he cares to answer. Is Howard some kind of reviving muse come to sprinkle a little light over his limbo-life? Maybe a phantom of someone lost? Or just one big cruel hallucination...

Zooming in, both Giamatti and Howard are technically perfect, but pull back on the big picture and the effect is that of a movie motoring along on its maker’s reputation as beguiler-in-chief, while leaving us grasping in the dark – for heart, for soul. For, uh, spirit...

We’re watching our words, of course. One of the pleasures of Shyamalan’s movies is going in cold and unbraced. Most will stumble out into the foyer wondering what the hell that was all about. But the clue is in the byline (‘A Bedtime Story’). It’s Shyamalan as The Daddy – reaching inside and trying to drag out your inner-child, tuck it in and tell it a spontaneous twilight tale - and if some bits don’t quite follow through or connect, so what? You’ll hopefully be too drowsy to notice.

A mush of fruitcake fairytale and magic-realist angst. As maddening as it is ambitious. But, for once, the twist is there's no twist. Well, sort of...

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