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Lady disappoints US critics

Is Manoj N Shyamalan's film as bad as it is made out to be. Saibal Chatterjee analyses why critics love to hate him.

india Updated: Jul 24, 2006 17:08 IST

M Night Shyamalan’s eagerly awaited fifth feature, Lady in the Water, which opened here on July 21 amid a fair degree of hype, hasn’t quite sent critics into paroxysms of delight. The early reviews of the film have at best been mixed.

Although a handful of critics have described the films as the most watchable one of this summer, most others have come down heavily on the difficult-to-comprehend story on which the Lady in the Water screenplay hangs. “You will need the gullibility of a child looking into her father’s eyes to buy into it,” writes one critic.

Another says: “The story is so convoluted and ultimately preposterous that you’re almost embarrassed by the actors trying to carry it off.”

Is Lady in the Water really as bad as these reviews make it out to be? It certainly isn’t. It exudes oodles of charms, is shot brilliantly by Christopher Doyle (he of the Wong Kar Wai fame), albeit often in dimly lit settings, and the acting, especially by leading man Paul Giamatti, is of a consistently high order.

M Night Shyamalan’s eagerly awaited fifth feature, Lady in the Water, hasn’t quite sent critics into paroxysms of delight.

Why then has Shyamalan’s new film provoked such negative critical notices? “There are plenty of moments when the dialogue is too twee and the characters play to crude stereotypes. The story doesn’t run too deep – it’s a fairy tale, and it holds up like one.”

Lady in the Water began as a simple bedtime story that Shyamalan cooked up for his two little daughters. The elongation of a small kernel into a full-blown narrative is inevitably a tad laboured, but Shyamalan’s essential style is pretty intact in the film. Lady in the Water exudes plenty of chutzpah and enterprise all the way through, but never in the conventional Hollywood sort of way.

All of the action takes place in a low-rent apartment complex near Philadelphia, where a caretaker stumbles upon a mystery woman in the swimming pool. She is a narf, an otherworldly, mermaid-like figure in need of help. Bryce Dallas Howard, earlier seen in Lars Von Trier’s Manderlay and Shyamalan’s widely panned The Village, does a fair job of a difficult task.             

It would seem that the myths that have grown steadily around him – Shyamalan has notoriously helped them on their way – since his breakthrough debut, The Sixth Sense, have alienated him from a section of the establishment that does not like creatures that live by their own rules.

The successful Indian American filmmaker has been in the news lately as much for the new film as for his concerted attempts to strengthen the aura that surrounds his career. He is an industry outsider with the clout to go where he pleases with his imagination. It might not always work. It might even seem a little repetitive at times. But the fact remains that his quirky stories give American moviegoers the sort of cinema that is entirely original. 

Having achieved A-list status at an age when few filmmakers get beyond their days of struggle, Shyamalan has made pots of money with all his four films. He has also made no attempts to unwrap the enigma that he is for the cause of better mass comprehension. Is that why so many American critics love to hate him?