If you’re following my takes on the Best Picture Nominees, here’s what I have so far:
old review on Dunkirk
Link to the podcast where my co-host and I talk The Post
“The Shape of Water” is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and is a Fantasy/Drama film about a mute woman who falls in love with a…well…you’ve probably heard by now.
So when it comes to Guillermo Del Toro, I’ve always disagreed with some of my peers. For anyone just joining us on this review, I don’t do the “film school” type of reviews and I’ve emphasized quite often that I’m just a regular guy who loves movies. That being said…I did not care for “Pan’s Labyrinth”. I don’t know why, I just thought it was dumb. Maybe it wasn’t for me, maybe I watched it in a bad mood, but for whatever reason I didn’t see what the big deal was. So right off the bat, my relationship with Guillermo Del Toro wasn’t a great one.
So when I sat down to watch “The Shape of Water”, I did my best to go at it with an open mind and take it for what it is. In the process of doing that, I can very easily see why this film seems to be the “favorite” for many people among this year’s nominees. However, it fell short for me and so far I’d put it as #2 on my list of the 5 I’ve seen (I haven’t done a review for my #1…but we’ll get to it eventually). While being a consistent, beautiful, sometimes breathtaking story with great characters, this film tends to have me hooked and then lose me with certain decisions or scenes I found ridiculous. It felt like eating an amazing candy bar and at some point finding a random raisin in it. The raisin doesn’t offend every fiber of your being, but still messes with the experience and you remember the raisin every time you remember the candy bar as a whole. If you’re already confused/annoyed…it gets worse. So maybe we should do positive points first.
There is a consistent theme here that I interpreted as being the concept of loneliness, and the movie makes sure we see how these different characters deal with that. Everyone here feels empty and wants to feel full (not from candy bars…and most certainly not from raisins) and they find that through the various things that come their way. The main character Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, obviously finds her comfort and fulfillment in the creature himself. Whereas the antagonist Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, finds his comfort in his professional success and in being superior to others. Not only do both characters have the similar feeling, but both rely on the creature for their fulfillment and the two forces clash very well and make for drama that the audience can get emotionally invested in. It also helps that both Hawkins and Shannon have put on performances that put them as the top contenders for the acting awards, especially considering that Hawkins is playing a character that doesn’t have dialogue.
The romance aspect of the film itself (initially what I wasn’t looking forward to) was something that I could actually believe by the end. While I think some viewers may struggle with a sense of disbelief, I don’t think this was the case for me and most others because of the way it is presented. My only wish was that they spent a little more time showing us the little things that cause the romance to blossom and why Elisa specifically feels love towards this creature, as opposed to those things being in a montage to progress the story to the actual point of conflict. Even then, Del Toro did a phenomenal job of exploring and showing a romance between two individuals that don’t really have anyone else, and I think that message really sticks with viewers and fosters the love for this film. That’s honestly the main thing, this whole movie is just very sweet and that’s something we genuinely don’t see as much. Add in all the magnificent visual storytelling that Del Toro has a knack for and it’s no surprise that you end up having a movie that could walk away being the best picture of 2017.
So what’s the issue? Even after me admitting all of this, why would I still have anything wrong with this? To be fair, they are little things, but they bothered me nonetheless. I feel like at some points the movie sacrificed subtlety and executed its points in a very obvious, cheesy, and sometimes predictable manner. Without being too specific to avoid details, there is a point where Elisa feels something towards this creature…and instead of showing us her expression and letting her feelings be obvious that way (which I KNOW the actor and director are capable of) instead we get the most out-of-place musical number ever (I’m not kidding). There was more than one moment like that which just took me out of the emotional ride the movie put me on, and sometimes I feel like these things happened all for the sake of being abstract, which is fine..as long as it stays within the boundaries of what was presented and created in the first place. Even with that aside, while I think this was an incredibly creative movie and I admire it, I always want a “best picture” to do something different and stun me in a way I didn’t think about before. In that context, I think this movie is amazing but the overall premise feels a little familiar to me and it didn’t help that some of the story beats were mentally being laid out in my head before it happened on screen.
That previous paragraph aside, I still do mainly think of the positives and find this movie a beautiful piece of art. Even if it didn’t have that final x-factor to make it my favorite this year, I’m still giving “The Shape of Water” a 9/10.