The Shape of Water movie director: Guillermo del Toro
The Shape of Water movie cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones
The Shape of Water movie rating: 3.5 stars
She can’t speak, he can’t talk, and in this classic Del Toro world, of dreams and nightmares, nothing anyone else says is of any consequence.
Fairytale-like in its basic storytelling, interspersed with a lot of talk about the God and the Bible, and a surprising amount of sex, The Shape of Water is more Creature from the Black Lagoon but is also Beauty and the Beast, with snatches of O’Henry’s The Last Leaf thrown in. What lifts it above these obvious derivatives is the loneliness and love it captures and puts on screen.
In that, screenwriters Vanessa Taylor and Del Toro, adapting a story by Del Toro, don’t leave anything unsaid. The characters who inhabit the universe where Elisa (Hawkins) and the Creature (Jones, under prosthetics) find love are all cliches of one form or another: the failed but loving and desolate gay, old artist who is Elisa’s neighbour (Jenkins); the black chirpy and kind fellow cleaning lady who is the only one who befriends Elisa at the work place (Spencer); their sadistic, racist boss (Shannon, at his teeth-grimacing best), who walks around with an electric cattle prod that, we are helpfully shown, is similar to the one used by white cops to browbeat protesters in the ongoing race riots of the 1960s; and a scientist who is aligned with the Russians but is passionate about his work more than anything else (Stuhlbarg).
In their midst, the story of Elisa and the Creature often struggles to come up for air. When the two of them are together, The Shape of Water needs nothing else but the boiled egg she offers to him to eat and the old songs she plays for the two of them. When the film is away from the two though, Del Toro fills up the space with too many storylines, including conflicted relationships with God, being gay, being an unappreciated wife, being a mechanical husband in bed, the Cold War space race etc etc.
The film is best in the second half when for, more and more time, Elisa has the Creature to himself in an apartment that in its sea greens and blues, and its musty browns, is reminiscent of the underwater from where the Creature has come. He has been brought from an Amazonian river, where he was revered as God (another idea the film stretches a bit), by authorities to be experimented upon at a secret Baltimore government lab, where work starts at night.
That The Shape of Water has 13 Oscar nominations indicates that the love story largely floats above the problems with the film — buoyed to a large extent by a timorous, luminous, powerful Sally Hawkins. She smiles and grieves with her eyes, and when love finds its way to her, she blossoms with every pore of her.
If the film underlines the power of love, and the endurance of hope — beyond possibilities, universes and life forms — it’s courtesy her, and especially her one ecstatic, uninhibited look over a shoulder while in copulation.