The Shape of Water - Movie Review

The Shape of Water - Movie Review

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The Shape of Water with 13 Oscar Nominations and both wins at the DGA (best director) and at the PGA (best film) is the assured Oscar favorite for Best Picture. Its closest rival is Dunkirk with 8, but Dunkirk doesn’t have a single acting nomination or a screenplay nomination.

Director Guillermo del Toro is definitely a visionary and his films have his artistic stamp and visually this film is no exception. Especially impressive is Paul D. Austerberry’s production design and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography.  Alexandre Desplat’s score is also stellar, both evocative and stirring.

I’m not sure if it’s just my rebellious streak; whereby I cannot possibly see the best picture favorite as the best picture (see my review of last year’s La La Land) or if I actually do have idiosyncratic taste, but The Shape of Water isn’t my choice for best picture of the nine nominees (not even close.)  Although I don’t find it as loopy as Rex Reed, I am just not taken in by the sci-fi, adult fairy tale, odd-ball romance, mash-up.  It is a bit too simplistic for my tastes.  Villains are unmitigated evil, the heroine’s intentions are unequivocally pure, and greed, ambition and xenophobia are very bad things.  We know exactly how to feel at every moment in the film.

In 1962 Cold War America, an amphibious man (Doug Jones) has been discovered and is being held captive in a government agency facility in Baltimore. At the center, the nameless amphibious man faces the usual prejudice and torturous experimentation, mainly at the hands of a middle management “yes-man” evil-agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) but the amphibious man has sympathetic allies as well; including Dr. Hofstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and janitors: Zelda Fuller (Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer) and mute Elisa Espisito (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins).  Richard Jenkins, (also Oscar nominated) gives the best performance in the film, as a lonely, closeted, cat hoarder neighbor of Elisa. He is full of pathos, but manages to have humor and is never self-pitying.  Stuhlbarg, one of our most reliable character actors, is having a great year, he’s in three films nominated for best picture: The Post, Call Me by Your Name and The Shape of Water.

Del Toro expects us to suspend belief and emotionally invest in the sketchy premise, and if you do-you will certainly enjoy the film.  For me, I cannot find the “in,” “the hook” into the lonely hearts “oddball” romance at the center of the film. Because of this, the film lacked emotional resonance necessary to feel like a great (Oscar winning) movie to me, plus many of the plot points feel like comic book turns.  Again, if the emotions are authentic, I am in.

If examined as an R rated fairy-tale, The Shape of Water is more successful. However, the adult content sometimes feels like it is added just so the viewer will take it seriously as a film, and not a fairytale.  This paradox is troubling. Then again nudity in a fairytale, is probably why so many fans love the film.  This could be construed as artistic moxie, or a misguided attempt at being edgy and a failed risk.

Still the film is entertaining and fast moving and has a signature look.  Guillermo del Toro is a director who clearly loves films, especially mid-century monster movies (The Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954) and his heart is in the right place.

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