Liquid Love: A Review Of The Shape Of Water
When I previously wrote about my favorite films of 2017 here on Metro.Style, I had not had the chance to watch Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water. So let me just state right off that it's now my bet for winning Best Picture at the Oscars. I've been a fan of Del Toro since Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, but felt that when you gave him too big a budget, he would go overboard with the effects and possess a weaker grip on the storytelling - Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak being the examples. But ironically, with a more modest budget, he's forced to rely on his genius; and The Shape of Water is proof of that.
It's easy to categorize this film as a fantasy drama that's set against the Cold War hysteria of 1962, and pairs a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins as Elisa) with an otherworldly merman (Doug Jones) who was captured in the Amazon, and held captive in a Baltimore military facility. There's a villain in the piece, an ex-military officer named Strickland (Michael Shannon) who's in charge of the facility and at one point, seeks to cut up the creature because it exists as something they don't understand and can't put to any military use. But to just leave one's description of the film at that would be like saying a Ferrari is just a car.
What's beautifully pitched and resonant for today, is how within the 1962 setting, it's about a band of misfits, those marginalized by society, working together, and seeking redemption and love. Elisa is a mute, who the higher-ups in the facility generally ignore; except for her best friend at work Delilah (Octavia Spencer). Delilah herself is a black woman, stuck in a marriage where her husband ignores her. Then there's Elisa's neighbor at the seedy apartments they rent on top of a cinema, the commercial artist Giles (Richard Jenkins), himself a lonely gay man. And of course, the biggest misfit of all is the merman. When a relationship is forged between Elisa and the entrapped creature, we know that this is soulmate finding improbable soulmate.
The world-building, the cinematography, Desplat's lush musical score, the references to old Hollywood, the special effects, the little touches to establish the personalities of the cast, and the terrific ensemble acting, they all point to a Del Toro very much in control of his 'universe' and treating us to old-school filmmaking with a very modern twist. An element of this modernity is the frankness with which subjects like sex and racial discrimination are addressed within the film.
I loved Three Billboards and Call Me By My Name, as they had great stories and performances. But if you ask me which film of 2017 rekindles that belief that movies are magic, and had me transfixed and transported to a familiar, but different, world for two hours, it would be The Shape of Water.