Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Shape of Water review

While I get the sexual tension of the monster and the female lead in The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), I did not want to see them get it on. And I certainly would have never imagined the two in a forties Hollywood musical number. Yet, director-writer Guillermo del Toro thought these might be good ideas for The Shape of Water. He also mashes three artistic genres that I love. Science Fiction. Film noir. Romantic jazz. That makes this cinematic fusion hard for me to be objective.

The Shape of Water takes place circa 1962. It's the height of the Cold War. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute who has a lonely existence. We know this because the movie shows one of her routines which is when she bathes, she um... does more than use soap. Okay, it's masturbation. Look, we're going to have a movie about fishman and woman sex, okay? And it ain't going to be rated G. But I digress. Elisa has a couple of friends. One of them is Giles (Richard Jenkins) an apartment neighbor and a closeted gay man who pines for the waiter at a local diner. They live above a movie theater. Yet, Elisa and Giles spend a lot of their time watching old movies with some of them being musicals on TV.

Elisa's other friend is Zelda. (Octavia Spencer) They both work at a top secret America government research lab as janitors. Zelda understands Eliza through sign language and interprets for her. One day, government official Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a biological specimen that looks like a cross between man and fish. The Fishman. (Doug Jones) And if you don't know this by now, Elisa befriends the captive Fishman and they have a relationship that is more than platonic.

The film has a wonderful cast. There's one major theme about the Elisa, Giles and Zelda. They're all lonely people. Richard Jenkins as Giles is a down on his luck advertising artist. He's also depressed by his middle age and his closeted gay life. In the sixties, society won't accept him. Octavia Spencer is a woman who doesn't have a perfect home life and the only one she can talk to is Elisa. In her role as Elisa, Sally Hawkins reveals the truth in her emotions. You see she doesn't utter a word. In her face, and body movements we see and feel her feelings. Loneliness. Compassion. Rage. Love. Joy. She's astounding and should receive the Oscar for Best Actress.

Composer Alexandre Desplat's score definitely lets you know he's French. It's romantic, impressionistic and lush. Like the film, he also fuses different styles. Impressionism. Romanticism. Jazz. It even features what sounds like an accordion. Yeah, just the thing to make me think of a romantic French cafe. The score is a perfect companion to del Toro's dream like visuals.

And what photography! Cinematographer Dan Laustsen and del Toro have decided to flavor their movie with film noir. It's brilliant. This is the Cold War. There's a darkness hanging over mankind that comes from the possibility of nuclear annihilation. That's exhibited in the movie's use of shadow and in simple things like Elisa looking through the rain drops on a bus window. Yet, there are rich and deep colors juxtaposed in the darkness. It feels like a dream and to me feels optimistic.

Whereas del Toro's Pacific Rim (2013) was a mash-up of giant robots, monsters and Godzilla movies, The Shape of Water is bolder by a tidal wave. Sorry for that. Del Toro with the help of screenwriter Vanessa Taylor are fusing sexual love between species, Cold War intrigue, film noir and romance. And the film works wonderfully on every level. The movie can be forgiven for heavy handed messages about racism, homophobia and the lack of logic in one scene where Elisa creates an life size aquarium in her apartment. It's more fantasy than science fiction or realistic drama. It's the type of fantasy that makes one think about prejudices and also makes you feel the joy of love.

There are other movies that this film may have been inspired by. Remember the mermaid meets boy in Splash (1984) ? Cinema Paradiso. And of course, del Toro acknowledges the science fiction classic, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. (1954) But The Shape of Water is a beautiful and warm original. The grade is A.

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