This film originates from a bedtime story director/writer M. Night Shyamalan told his children. A mythical tale about how some special water people, or blue world, lost touch with people on land through time. Usually, personal stories like this tend to marginalize audiences, but it’s very entertaining with several laughs and smiles, something you don’t usually see in a Shyamalan film.
Giamatti does a great job in a “hat trick” lead role with the emotional, physical and mental challenges as Cleveland Heap, superintendent of an apartment complex. He literally dives right into an unintentional adventure and personal journey. Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Village) plays the mysterious Story who appears in the pool.
Plot points range from subtle (e.g. the apartment complex is called “The Cove”) to obvious (e.g. when Cleveland dives in pool, filmmakers repeat the previous explanatory narration. The plot also mixes the supernatural elements by showing fantastical scenes and then the after effects of mini-miracles. Seeing flashbacks of the Blue World and characters’ closure (especially Heap) would have been superfluous in the overall plot, but could make some great complimentary pieces for the DVD.
The film tries to walk the thin line of letting the audience figure things out and spelling things out. The sudden scene changes, which people loathed in The Village, produce a sense of unpredictability that, mostly due to the plot, lacks in this film, which also reduces the amount of scares.
Still there’s a few frightening flashes including one where both main characters go hysterical over two different subjects. Shyamalan intentionally make the plot confusing and frustrating in segments near the end. It seems to be when someone tells you your life purpose and it doesn’t end up being true. People trust Cleveland, who knows everyone and most importantly, takes the time to communicate with them.
Shyamalan does a lot with a limited setting, once again filmed in and near his hometown of Philadelphia. The cast validates Shyamalan’s gifts as a screenwriter/filmmaker continue to attract talented actors to interesting and well-developed roles.
Bob Balaban (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Gosford Park) plays a new tenant and Jeffery Wright (Syriana, Shaft) plays another tenant with a son. Other quality supporting characters include Freddy Rodriquez (Six Feet Under television series), experienced filmmaker Bill Irwin, Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris), Mary Beth Hurt and Sarita Choudhury (Mississippi Masala). Shyamalan even gets in the plot as, big shock, a writer. Cindy Cheung plays a college student who provides an important segway between Cleveland and Story.
It’s unfair to have a film so dependant on expectations not the merits of the filmmaker. Judgmental audiences will find this film a notch above The Village. Recommended with reservations (**1/2) and rated PG-13 for some frightening sequences and implied violence that’s much tamer than Shyamalan’s previous films. Perhaps he knew his children would be watching the family bedtime story come to life.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler