January 23, 2018

The Shape of Water (2017)

Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones

I've tried, unsuccessfully, to start this review half a dozen times. I simply cannot come up with a coherent response to it. I literally don't know how I feel about it. So if you can bear with me, I'm going to work through my feelings about it in a messy, hopefully somewhat legible way.

It's weird. It's really fucking weird. No one should be surprised by this if you've ever watched anything by Guillermo del Toro, but it still weirded me out. I have no doubt that was part of the point, but even 24 hours later, the initial shock of the movie hasn't really worn off.

Pluses: The acting is excellent. My favorite character is probably Richard Jenkins, who keeps the movie from veering too far into the artsy side and whose voice I could listen to all day. Him providing the opening and closing narration of the film give it an extra boost. Octavia Spencer, as usual, is delightful to watch. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN WE GET THIS WOMAN A STARRING ROLE IN SOMETHING? It would really great to see her in something where she's NOT forced into some servile role because of her race/class. And Michael Shannon, as usual, looks like the guy you're going to hate from the moment he steps on screen. He just has that kind of face to play the role.

Now, let's talk Sally Hawkins' character. I love the fact that she is a differently-abled person here (in this case, someone who is mute) and the embrace of that. The script doesn't try to change her or improve her and those around her simply accept her as she is. I love that she has friends, a job, and leads a relatively normal (albeit stark) life, despite this "condition." As we talk about representation in media, it's important to remember that includes more than just people of different races. The ability to seamlessly integrate this aspect of her character into the movie without relying on it for jokes or climax or change--she simply IS this way--is pretty amazing when you think about it. 

Then of course, there's the fish/merman/whatever he's supposed to be. I never watched del Toro's Hellboy, but I have seen pictures of the makeup and it's incredible. This movie is no different. The intricate detail on his costume (is that the right word?), his eyes - everything - is really cool. There's not really another word to describe it. The fish-man is cool. Which helps since, you know, it's a love story and though attractiveness is a relative concept, there are some things that are truly too ugly to love. (see: Chinese hairless dogs)

In all seriousness, this really is as beautiful a film as everyone keeps saying it is. It might not seem like it on first watch, but the more I think about it, the more I remember I like about it. It has its flaws, for sure (some very questionable decisions on the part of Hawkins' character, to name a few), but the overall arc of the story is tidy and just tense enough to edge out the weirdness. It was also far less dark than I imagined, which was a pleasant surprise. While I thought Pan's Labyrinth was brilliant, it also creeped me out to the point I had to cover my eyes sometimes because I was certain something terrible was going to happen. This movie was far less disturbing. (But of course it was, how do you compete with Nazis?)

So when I break it all down and think about the different pieces, I realize what a brilliant movie it was. When it think about my experience watching it and trying to talk about it afterward, all I can say it it was weird.

Final word: It was really weird. But in a good way. 

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