By Marc S. Sanders

I love fantasy and science fiction for one simple rule. A writer/director’s imagination can be limitless. Rules for a good fantasy are normally established in the exposition, and as long as those rules are not violated, a viewer will accept the narrative all the way to the end. The Shape Of Water is loyal to its set up.

Director/Co-Writer, Guillermo Del Toro continues his reputable streak of very adult (yet playful) fantasy. In 50 years, I would not be surprised if Disney/Pixar remade this film and Pan’s Labyrinth for younger PG audiences simply because the roots of the stories are so well played out.

Here is a Cold War love story between an alien and a good soul played by Sally Hawkins doing her best mute. Hawkins is bright eyed and wonderful. She’s a character that doesn’t judge and only recognizes despair for salvation. I thought she was great at conveying her performance through the limits of only facial expression, sign language, sex and self pleasure in a bathtub. Try to avoid snickers at that last description. It really is an honest, necessary reflection of a lonely innocent woman. I appreciated the writing and performance there.

Michael Shannon is back on screen playing a frightening villain…again. The reasons for his ruthless intentions were never clear to me, but either Shannon is that good an actor or he’s gotta be like this in real life. This is not a guy I’d ever want to cut in line at Starbucks, much less audit his books. He’s scary good.

Didn’t find much point to Richard Jenkins lonely neighbor except to drive a van, eat pie, be unemployed and be a token homosexual. Same with Octavia Spencer. Was she channeling a more subtle Whoopi Goldberg from Ghost? Don’t get me wrong. Jenkins and Spencer are fine actors here, and their characters are likable, but they don’t add much to the story except to be Hawkins’ sidekicks. Too much story was devoted to them though unnecessarily. Del Toro and his co-writer might have used them for too much filler.

Del Toro doesn’t stop with the new material as the two hours swim on by at a nice pace. We are treated to a wonderful Busby Berkeley song and dance moment that is just inviting to be spoofed by the Wayans or Zucker brothers, sensual nudity is there, not for perversion, but to send home the message that though this relationship is weird, it’s also the real deal. I bought it all the way through. Racism and gay prejudice are perhaps unnecessary in a film like this but there is key lime pie. Cats are consumed. Cold War espionage is on hand with Russian spies, dirty American government politics is there too, and oh yeah, there’s an amphibious alien who seems like any one of Spielberg’s extra-terrestrials we’ve seen before. Yet, I’ll take this one as well because he’s narrated into a very mature love story that is hard not to like.

As quick as the movie begins, you know how it is going to end. Again I don’t mind. Most of the execution rescues the story’s predictability.

Del Toro won Best Director and the film was awarded Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s not what I would pick, but there could be worse choices from that year’s selections.

I liked The Shape Of Water. Most of it at least.

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