When I decide to watch a movie, I don’t usually seek it out according to box office success, or critical acclaim. I just look at it, and if it looks interesting to me, or like a pleasant diversion, or like something I can goof and riff on, I’ll give it a go. Since I don’t see most “new” films until they hit a video streaming service, by the time I decided to dial up The Shape of Water on HBO GO, it had already won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Generally, a movie nominated for Best Picture isn’t a box office blockbuster, or even a popular film that everyone’s heard of. They’re usually considered for their artistic merit; stuff like cinematography, ensemble, acting, directing, storytelling… y’know, crap like that. I’ve noticed similar trends among Best Picture winners from the past two decades or so: they are usually rated R, and usually look like total snoozefests. Of the BP’s I’ve seen, some were good (American Beauty, The Silence of the Lambs), some were okay (Forrest Gump), and some were lame (Titanic, Crash). Anyway, I wanted to check out The Shape of Water, because I had to see for myself: Is it really about a mute chick falling in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Yep, it sure is.
Mute chick’s name is Elisa. Some might think she’s mute because of the (suspiciously gills-looking) scars on her neck. Elisa works as a cleaning woman at a secret government facility in Baltimore, during the early 1960s. This was during the height of the Cold War, so there were Russians, or Soviets, lurking around the facility as well. (Sort of “live-action hackers,” if you will.) The U.S. military, headed up by Colonel Strickland, brings in a creature that they plucked out of the Amazon River, so they can study it, even if it means cutting him open, which has always been kind of SOP for scientists.
One scientist, however, wants to keep the creature alive. This scientist turns out to be an implanted Russian operative, and he’s saddened to learn that his bosses want him to kill the fishman even before the Americanskis can vivisect it. Elisa just wants to feed him eggs, and eventually set him free in the ocean. Oh, and she wants to um, be one with him, too. What I mean is, she wants to make the beast with two backs, and one of the backs has a fin on it. She’s tired of filling up her bathtub and rocking the man-in-the-boat, if you know what I mean.
Elisa teams up with Giles, her gay artist neighbor, and Zelda, her black co-worker, and they hatch a master plan to spring the fishman from captivity. The Mod Squad, they ain’t, but they do succeed with a little assist from Russian spy guy, and Elisa sets the fishman up in her apartment until the tide can come into the harbor and sweep him away. Why fishman can’t just jump into the harbor as is, I don’t know.
While fishman is chillin’ in the tub, Giles sketches him, and Elisa teaches him more sign language. Then, she gets to that other bit of business we were all waiting to see. No more jilling off for this chica; she’s going for the big score.
The film is visually stunning, and not too overly-stylized; the dance sequence was a little cheesy, but passable. Plotwise, there a lot of things wrong with The Shape of Water. A lot of characters have to make unwise decisions just so the plot can proceed in a certain way. For instance, if Strickland suspected Elisa of messing around with the fishman, why didn’t he just get her address from the company’s HR department, and go pay her a visit? And why did he leave Zelda and her good-for-nothin’ husband alive after they told him where the fishman was? He knew Zelda would call Elisa to warn her. Of course, if Strickland killed Zelda, then we couldn’t have the thrilling-yet-predictable conclusion down at the docks. A lot of the dialogue was overwritten, in my opinion. Most characters took fifty or more words to communicate stuff that could be done with ten, maybe fifteen. Even the General had an overly-flowery monologue. Subplots kind of pop up and are dealt with quickly; we find out stuff we already knew, like the fact that blacks and gays were discouraged from sitting at lunch counters, and men are very quick to destroy what they can’t understand.
In The Shape of Water, I found a film that was not very well-written, but had a decent storyline, was visually appealing, and even turned out to be fun to riff on. (Was it deserving of Best Picture? I dunno. I liked Get Out better, but that’s just me.) Three out of five stars.