The Shape of Water (2017)


Further proof why we need to save our oceans.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute, lonely woman who lives by herself and generally has a calm, care-free, and quiet existence. Her best friend is also her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), who also happens to be gay and wanting desperately to come out of the closet, yet, with this being early-60’s Baltimore, few things like that are ever heard of. Still, Elisa gets by with her job as a cleaning-lady at a top-secret, government-testing facility, where she mops and cleans up mostly everything. But then, one day, her suspicions get the best of her when she notices a strange fish/person/thing (Doug Jones), that the facility has in its own safe keep so that the Russians can’t get it. What they want to do with it, or what’s going to become of it, they don’t really know, but the security-guard keeping watch over it (Michael Shannon), knows that he wants to make its life absolute and total torture. But Elisa doesn’t like this and sees a little bit of herself in this creature, making their relationship stronger and more passionate as the days go by and the danger of their lives near closer.

Good friends live disheveled lives together.

In all honesty, Guillermo del Toro is a writer/director I respect and admire more than I actually like. Mostly all of his movies work for me, they’re beautiful, put-together exceptionally well, and feel like the creative-work of a visionary at his finest, but for some reasons, the emotions are just never there for me. This isn’t to take away from his work as a writer/director, nor is it to say that those who love his work are “wrong” by any means – it’s just a thing with me. I’ve come to accept it, watch his movies, appreciate them, and move on.

And the Shape of Water is another one of those works I respect and appreciate, yet, by the same token, also walk away from a little cold.

Mostly though, it’s shocking how conventional and simplistic the Shape of Water is, considering that del Toro’s films all take on a rather crazy, confusing, and fantastical tone that seem to come from some other dimension. Not that there isn’t any of his usual fantasy-elements here, but mostly, they’re all toned down so that del Toro can get to a more human and understated story about a group of misfits, getting by, finding love, happiness, and meaning to a life that seems to hate them for being who they are. In other words, it’s a beautiful movie in both the way it looks and feels, but at the center, it’s also a lot sweeter than a lot of del Toro’s other more foreboding movies.

Which isn’t to say that del Toro plays it safe here, because that’s not the case. In fact, del Toro still somehow finds a way to keep his voice and vision, even when it seems like he’s making some sacrifices to bring other people to his work; though it’s a creature-feature in some senses, there’s also romance, drama, comedy, and espionage that makes this a movie that has something for everyone, regardless of if they want it or not. And of course, some people may not be willing to stick with this odd movie, the plot, the twists, and turns, but so what?

“Go and get your fish-man, girl.”

They’re not used to something this odd and original, which makes the Shape of Water a treat for us all who want a little something more out of cinema.

No matter how large or small.

We also appreciate a movie that has these somewhat colorful and comical characters, yet, also gives them enough heart and humanity to make them seem somewhat humane. Sally Hawkins, in what is practically a silent performance, does a lot with very little; she’s sweet and soulful, yet, doesn’t have the opportunity to ever make us feel that with her words. It’s just the way she carries herself and looks, and it works. Richard Jenkins is even better as her gay neighbor who, with almost every line, steals every scene. He’s funny, heartfelt, smart, witty, and oh yeah, a little sad. Basically, he’s a perfect character for Richard Jenkins to play and he makes every second work.

There’s also Octavia Spencer as Hawkins’ funny, smart and sassy co-worker who, with just about every line, also has something funny to say. In fact, other than the Hellboy movies, the Shape of Water may be del Toro’s funniest movie, because while it embraces its darker, more sinister undertones, it always has a funny snap or two immediately after, that knows how to be self-aware, but never too cloying or over-the-top. It’s just the right amount of light and darkness, and it’s why the whole cast, does a great job. Michael Shannon plays the villain here who is so distasteful and evil, it’s hard to really watch him, but once again, it works.

It all works. It just didn’t, once again, grab me the way it probably has to everyone else. And that’s just my cross to bear.

Consensus: Ambitious, smart, funny, humane, heartfelt, and well-acted, the Shape of Water proves to be del Toro’s mos accessible movie, but also doesn’t let go of his ever creative-vision.

8 / 10

Under the sea. Under the sea.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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