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Entertainment

"The Shape of Water" Drowns in a Cliche Plot

The Shape Of WaterStarring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg

 

At Nino’s Pizzeria, there was a large fish tank towards the back where customers could admire the beauty of salt water creatures. From yellow tangs to clown fish, I’d find myself gazing at them in the background rather than staring at an empty plate waiting for the sicilian pie to come out. Over the years, the number of fish have dwindled. The beauty that was once nestled in the back is now filled with a bunch of bottom feeders hiding in the pebbles.

There’s a special connection we can feel with the creatures who swim around in the water. Sure they don’t talk much or play fetch, but their presence is missed when they’re gone. I may have liked the fish that swam around in the tank, but Eliza Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins, has taken her admiration for amphibians a little too far.

Eliza is a mute who works as a cleaning lady at a top secret government laboratory. She has a couple of friends in her support group, but Eliza is a single and lonely woman. While cleaning one of the facilities in the laboratory, scientists bring in a creature for observation. Although the scientists mistreat the creature, Eliza sparks a connection with it. The creature does not see the faults in Eliza many others may judge her for; he sees Eliza for who she is.

The Shape of Water holds the most Oscar nominations this year at thirteen. The nominations include Best Picture, Best Actress for Sally Hawkins, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actor for Richard Jenkins, and Best Director for Guillermo del Toro.

Del Toro creates a unique environment while choosing a fresh approach for a main character. Also, there are strong performances by Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon. It’s a nice story, but the crux of the plot is cliche.

The world created by del Toro takes place in the late 1950s or early 60s. Outside of the laboratory, all the items feel authentic and polished. The televisions stand on four legs, with big knobs on the front and the couches are drawn close to them for an optimal viewing experience. The cars are slick and shiny with long, chrome plated Cadillacs dominating the streets. Although the set design by Paul D. Austerberry is glitzy, the dark underlying tones of the era are captured as well.

The Cold War is cynically taking a toll on Americans, as many wonder if they are living among the Communists. Additionally, racism brings out the true colors of those who may seem like respectable people. The production design and social themes transport us to the not so distant future for a love story that’s beyond belief.

The era might be familiar, but the main characters are fresh. Despite being a mute, Eliza is a strong woman who can take charge of a situation; there are many films that like to poke fun at the disability.

Frankenstein is a mute and he’s the scariest character we’ve ever seen, while the main zombie character in Warm Bodies is a mute too. Let’s not forget Mr. Bean, who annoyingly roams around England and looks like he has been hit by a train twice. The Shape of Water offers Eliza who carries her own weight by seizing her relationship with the creature, developing a strong core of friends, and handling pressure at work well.

All of these positive attributes in Eliza are what the creature recognizes.

The creature sees the best in Eliza and looks past her disability. We all wish to have someone in our lives who looks past our faults and appreciate us for who we really are. It’s important to understand that there are people with disabilities who are judged for something they have no choice to live with. Eliza has accepted her place in the world and hopes for someone to love her for who she is.

When that someone comes along, a spark ignites in her and she takes full advantage of having a relationship with that person. Also, the creature can relate to her situation because he’s bullied by the scientists for the way he looks and acts.

Two imperfect people can make the perfect relationship. Both characters have overcome so much in their lives and finding that special someone makes life a battle worth fighting.

The performances by Sally Hawkins as Eliza and Michael Shannon as Strickland are also great features.

Hawkins plays Eliza, who does not talk for the film’s entirety. It’s challenging for an actor to convey such emotion without any words, but Eliza grips the audience’s hearts naturally. Eliza communicates through sign language, yet conveys feelings through facial expressions.

When Eliza rests her head on the bus window, gazing out to the bustling streets with a long look, we can tell a tough day is ahead of her.

Then there are moments where her happiness emulates off the screen with a twinkling smile or tap dance. Hawkins’ performance shows how one does not need words to connect with the audience.

Michael Shannon’s character serves as the perfect foe to Eliza. As always, Shannon gives an intense performance as the leading figure in the study of the creature. Strickland is constantly stern and has a smug look on his face, even around his kids. Shannon plays the type of guy nobody would want to mess with. If I stole a cookie from Strickland’s jar,

I’d probably confess right when he’d look me in the eye. It takes a strong person to stand up to Strickland, which is why Sally Hawkins as Eliza is the perfect fit.

Although del Toro’s piece is a special adult fairy tail romance, the plot is standard. Girl gets lonely, girl notices a locked up guy, girl must get guy out of captivity, and so on. It was predictable from the start and the ending wasn’t too surprising.

The stakes feel high at times, but it always feels like the inevitable is bound to happen. The performances, setting and characters were fresh, but the storyline wasn’t.

At Nino’s Pizzeria, the salt water fish tank is a far cry from what it used to be. With only bottom feeders scouring through the pebbles, the tank is practically empty.

The same could be said about Eliza’s attitude towards life up until she meets the creature.

Eliza finds herself alone as an outcast of society for not being “normal.”

However, when in the presence of the creature, Eliza is full of life and feels loved. It takes the admiration of one person to bring out the best in others. When Eliza finds the creature, they define The Shape of Water because love takes many faces.

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