Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) loves to make movies and it’s obvious that actors and members of the production teams love to make movies with him. Those who have worked on The Shape of Water have called it “magical” and “beautiful” and during del Toro’s Best Director award speech at the Golden Globes, he moved his two leading ladies to tears. The love and the respect people seem to have for del Toro certainly translated to the screen and their performances in The Shape of Water. This film was so well received, it has been nominated for thirteen Oscars (just one shy of the record), including the big ones (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay) and a number of the technical ones (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing).
Sally Hawkins (Maudie, Blue Jasmine) turns in a performance of a lifetime as Elisa, a mute cleaner at a highly classified government facility who meets and eventually falls in love with an amphibian creature being held captive at the facility. She doesn’t say a word, but through her facial expressions, use of sign language, and that sly smile, you know exactly what she’s feeling. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) is equally impressive as Zelda, Elisa’s cleaning colleague. She’s funny, doesn’t stop talking, and never really requires a response from Elisa in order to know how she feels about something. It must be difficult to play a part when your lines are like one big rant but it never really shows. The rest of the supporting cast couldn’t be any better – Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Michael Shannon is an over-the-top villain named Strickland who you despise in every single scene. He never lets up and it’s perfection.
The film is set in the 1960’s when everyone was afraid of Russians spies. When a creature from the Amazon is brought into a secret research facility its apparent that the views on how to treat it are opposing. One man wants to learn from it, the other man wants to torture and destroy it before enemies can get their hands on it. In the middle is Elisa, who somehow finds companionship with the strange, misunderstood creature. It’s a weird story that brings together elements from familiar movies like Splash, King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, and Creature from the Black Lagoon – and some may say the narrative has been done before, so why bother? If this type of thing troubles you, if you were angry that Avatar got so much hype even though it was basically Pocahontas, stay at home because this type of fantasy film probably isn’t for you. It’s what a director does with a familiar story – either visually or with beloved characters – that can make all the difference. What James Cameron did to revitalize the popular story with a huge budget, del Toro does with and a small budget and pure passion.
This movie is too different to be universally likeable. The magical/unbelievable element will throw off some moviegoers– but if you go into it prepared and with an open mind, it’s really hard not to love every minute of it. Guillermo del Toro has said that on a few occasions, his fairy tales have saved his life – The Shape of Water being one of them – and that is evident in how personal the film feels. It explores the loneliness in being different, the dream of being loved and understood, and the harsh cruel realities of the world all at once. The score (Oscar-nominated Alexandre Desplat), the almost-excessive romanticism, and overly adorable characters will either make you smile with delight for two hours or have you rolling your eyes, wishing for it to be over. Like everything, it’s a matter of perspective and what you’re in the mood for.
The Shape of Water has grossed over $95M worldwide; with less than a $20M budget that is quite the success. The Shape of Water has been nominated for thirteen Oscars at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards:
Best Achievement in Directing
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Best Achievement in Production Design
Watch the official trailer from FOX Searchlight here: