Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

The Shape of Water

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on December 12, 2017 at 1:05 AM


Guillermo del Toro


IDEA:  A mute janitor forms a relationship with a mysterious sea creature being detained at the government research facility where she works.

BLURB:  Like its protagonists, who learn how to live by imitating, internalizing, and becoming cinema, The Shape of Water constitutes an act of mimesis. In ornate fashion, del Toro frames his film as a film, proudly and affectionately emulating the styles and tropes of the classical Hollywood cinema that has fueled his creative passion. The result is a gleaming mash note that pays homage to a variety of genres in an exuberant if unevenly imagined pastiche. In any case, it is unmistakably the work of del Toro’s puckish mind: the writer-director suffuses the generic conventions of his scenarios with a macabre, oddball wit and artist’s attention to visual detail that tend to mitigate the more predictable aspects of his and Vanessa Taylor’s script. What is most delightful, although under-realized, is their mobilization of genre toward (lightly) subversive ends. The monster movie, the romantic melodrama, and the musical become refigured as vehicles for social outcasts, centering and ennobling the kinds of characters who have been historically excluded from the house styles that so enamor del Toro. This would have been more convincing, however, if The Shape of Water itself were more unorthodox. Despite its poignant foregrounding of those marginalized others, it remains stubbornly beholden to the trappings of genre and classical narrative structure, brushing over some of its most outré sensibilities with a factory sheen. Even the wondrously weird interspecies romance, ostensibly the ballast of the film, is overshadowed by busy and routine storytelling mechanics. The Shape of Water is not the sui generis film fantasia it could have been, but it is an endearing, exceedingly well-crafted entertainment that takes after its influences with an infectious conviction.

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