Before we dive into ‘The Shape of Water,’ (see what I did there?) I wanted to start with a quick thank you for checking out my film review site! I started this little blog on the urging of a twitter poll, it was overwhelming in support of publishing my movie opinions, no need to check just take my word for it. Anyways, as I put this site together, I spent a lot of time thinking about a good movie to start with. As you can see, I came to the conclusion that there is no better launching pad than the most recent Academy Award winner for best picture. So without further ado:
What would you do when the thing you love most is at risk? This is the question at the heart of Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar winner ‘The Shape of Water.” Would you risk your life and livelihood as Elisa (Sally Hawkins) does for the mythical fish-man being held captive in the lab she cleans? Would you turn on your country out of devotion to your integrity and humanity like Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg)? As much as Del Toro’s Oscar winning film is a fairy tale type story of a mute woman and a merman falling in love, it is also a deeper tale of fighting for what you love and finding acceptance for who you are.
Before going any farther, let’s address the elephant in the room. No, not that one, we’ll get to that soon enough; I’m talking right now about the Oscars. The question that immediately comes to mind: “Was ‘The Shape of Water’ 2018’s best picture?” Put simply, no. It was a very good film, but in my mind it was the 3rd or 4th best of the nominees (as of this writing I have yet to see ‘Phantom Thread.’) That being said, Del Toro’s movie was certainly worthy of the nomination and the other awards it received. The score was brilliant, giving the film the ambiance it needed to escape the often dark tale being told. Production design was good and probably a deserved win as well.
Let’s start with what worked for ‘The Shape of Water.’ Overall, the production and direction of the film were fantastic. The lighting and music conveyed the whimsical nature that carried through the entirety of the movie. The acting was great across the board with every character brought to life by the actor portraying him or her. Octavia Spencer was especially phenomenal as Zelda Fuller, so much so that I’m surprised there wasn’t more buzz around her during awards season (to be fair, it was a tough field this year.) She brought a much needed levity in her role as confidant and translator for the mute Elisa. Finally, the writing was good as well, with multiple compelling B plots revolving around Elisa and the Amphibious Man. Del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor did a wonderful job creating characters and stories that never felt wasted or pointless.
Prepare yourself for a much shorter list when it comes to what didn’t work with ‘The Shape of Water.’ Really, just about everything came together well for this movie. However, the biggest exception in my mind was the fish sex. It wasn’t even explicitly shown on screen, but also it was entirely unnecessary to the plot. Del Toro could have worked out a little more humanity in the creature to the same effect in the story, but took the easier path. Don’t get me wrong, the fish fucking didn’t ruin the movie and wasn’t even that big a part of the plot; it simply a missed opportunity. After that things get nitpicky. The story, for obvious reasons, wasn’t as relatable as some of the other top films of the year. Perhaps the most human moment occurred when Elisa explained to her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) that she has developed this affinity for the fish-man because he sees her for who she is and doesn’t care about what she isn’t. As mentioned earlier, the plots were all good, they just lacked that extra bit that really draws you in.
Ultimately I would say ‘The Shape of Water’ is worth your time, especially now that it’s pretty widely available. The positives far outweigh the negatives with this one and I recommend it highly.