At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.
THE REVIEW: I’m going to avoid making promises to write more reviews that I don’t keep and just start by saying happy 2018! I saw The Shape of Water a few weeks ago and kept meaning to write a review; now it has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar so it’s kind of mandatory at this point.
Part of the reason I didn’t write down my thoughts right away is that it was hard for me to write about this film. Lots of people I spoke to asked me what I thought and I ended up developing a standard response that came about spontaneously — shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I liked it,” in a very meh tone-of-voice. Somehow I thought waiting two weeks would help with a formal review, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.
Sally Hawkins’ acting is superb, one of the best performances I saw of the year (though that list is admittedly small), and deserving of her nomination for Best Actress. Despite having only seen del Toro’s Pacific Rim — which while fitting with his style is still far from Pan’s Labyrinth — I could readily identify his unique voice and really appreciated the subtlety he brought to the story and the visuals. Fantastical realism comes to mind as a way to describe it; crazy out-there would be an exaggerated, though still apt, as well. David Hewlett’s (who I know from the Stargate Atlantis series) supporting performance was a plus for me and Michael Stuhlbarg also delivers a well-rounded acting job.
But that’s really all I got. No criticisms of the film or really anything I can think of I would want changed or improved. The acting and directing were both good, but didn’t blow me away. The story was interesting, touching, and was surprisingly moving especially towards the end when you see Elisa Esposito’s (Hawkins) relationship with the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) takes interesting turns and opens up many doors down axons that have never lit inside one’s brain. But just as I have no words of criticism about the movie, I also have none to shower it with praise. The Rotten Tomatoes summary says it is del Toro “at his visually distinctive best,” and Ty Burr of the Boston Globe called it a “supreme confabulation of cinematic craft.”
THE TAKEAWAY: Sure, call it that. A lot of people love this film a whole lot and have strong opinions about it, opinions I cannot really disagree with. However, my overall takeaway for The Shape of Water can still be summed up with “meh”. I had been wavering between three and four stars because again, despite my blasé attitude I did like this film. But after never really having a good answer besides, “I liked it” when people asked me my thoughts, I landed on three stars being the most appropriate. Opinions will vary, and I would love to hear from those of you who did love the film why; what are the specifics that drew you in and took it to that next level for you. My advice is give it a throw, see what you think. I’ve been losing my authority on what I think the best films of the year are after I stopped seeing a lot the year they’re released, but I won’t disagree with it being nominated for Best Picture; and I strongly agree with the nominations for Hawkins and del Toro in their respective categories.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5