Masterful storytelling and artistic vision bring a Cold War fairy tale to life. This is del Toro at his very best, and Sally Hawkins’ performance is not to be missed. Buy the ticket.
The Good: The acting, set designs, music, direction, writing, and themes, among others.
Mrs. Potts might watch The Shape of Water and from moment one recognize that it is “a tale as old as time.”
And that’s because, in complete honesty, The Shape of Water is not a new story. It’s been told 1000 times before. It is the story of Beauty and the Beast.
But what makes it so unique, let alone masterful, is the way director and writer Guillermo del Toro applies this well-worn story to a population that has never been a part of it.
Sally Hawkins gives an outstanding, career defining performance. Her character is mute, requiring Hawkins to give a deeply emotional performance without the use of language. She uses body and sign language, facial expressions, and presence to communicate her character’s motivations, often to a clearer conclusion than dialogue could have managed.
Hawkins is joined by the equally great performances of Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and the ever-terrifying Michael Shannon.
For Spencer, Stuhlbarg, and Shannon, this is business as usual, each as sharp as they’ve ever been. For Jenkins, though, this is a career best performance as a struggling gay ad illustrator. The nuance of his, and every, character is deep, constantly refuting the audiences’ preconceptions.
And that’s where the uniqueness of this story comes in; Beauty is not the gorgeous and brilliant small town woman, enthralled by a soon-to-be-beautiful beast.
Hawkins character is mute, poor, and perfectly average looking. She is also deeply empathetic, courageous, and has fulfilling sexual life. She is a person, a complicated character, warts and all.
The Amphibian Man, her beast, is not secretly a handsome and rich prince. There is no redeeming quality to his bestial form, because there is nothing to redeem.
This is a love story about the people who never get to have them. The love of the not-prototypical Hollywood persons. Queer love. The love between outcasts. The love of science. The love shared when someone listens to you.
Then there’s the love exhibited by the film itself. The production design, color, music, editing and lighting each contribute to a perfectly synchronized ballet. There is no one most important component; each is a keystone.
That level of mastery only comes from someone who has poured not just their time and talent, but also their heart and soul, into a project. Guillermo del Toro has planted his flag firmly in the land of dark modern fairytale. This is his realm, and likely will be for a long time to come.
We should be so lucky to even get a ticket.
The Bad: Nothing of consequence.
The Ugly: A movie about those who aren’t typically represented is a beautiful thing.
Perhaps the best way to explain the representation in this film is to describe its only antagonist. The true monster.
Michael Shannon plays a white, heterosexual middle-aged man. He has the perfect suburban house with the perfect compliant wife. He drives the right car, wears the right clothes, and most importantly, is a patriot.
And, in a perfect form of subtle-not-subtle visual metaphor, del Toro has him literally rot.
“From master story teller, Guillermo del Toro, comes THE SHAPE OF WATER – an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment. Rounding out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones and Michael Stuhlbarg.” – Rotten Tomatoes