Each year, I try to watch every movie nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award before the Oscars ceremony. As I do this, I will write a brief review of each movie, along with a suggestion of what to eat and/or drink to pair with the movie.
When a movie like The Shape of Water comes around, I feel completely out of touch with the rest of the American, movie-going public. When I hear or read people raving about how much they like it, I wonder if we saw the same movie.
Granted, I began watching this movie pessimistically. I really had no interest in seeing it, but I did because I’d committed to writing about all of the Best Picture Oscar nominees. The truth is, while I haven’t seen many Guillermo del Toro movies, I haven’t liked any of them. I didn’t like Hellboy and I didn’t like Pan’s Labyrinth. I did not see Pacific Rim because I thought it looked really stupid.
This probably says something more about me than about his movies. But it always seems to me that they are nice to look at but there isn’t much to think about. I am not a visual person, I am a cerebral person. That probably makes me sound like an asshole, but it also makes me find Guillermo del Toro movies really, really boring.
Everyone who has seen The Shape of Water trailer knows exactly what the movie is about. There are no surprises, no narrative twists. I’m not saying a movie has to have a shock ending for me to enjoy it, but there does need to be some layers to the characters, some subtlety. There is nothing like that in this film.
The movie annoyed me in the first few minutes and I have to admit I sort of checked out from there. Here’s what it did that irritated me so: there is a shot of Elisa’s [Sally Hawkins] naked body with her head chopped out of the frame. Has del Toro never read a single article on the male gaze in cinema? Are we still doing that?
What immediately follows is Elisa masterbating within the confines of an egg timer. I get it, he’s trying to show that this woman is not just a mute but she has a rich inner life full of the desires that most everyone has. I’m all for normalizing female pleasure and self-pleasure, but there is a better way to do it. This felt like a cinematic version of the “feminist” bro. You know what I’m talking about.
Furthermore, del Toro commits another sin to women in cinema: he literally takes away her voice. Our main character is a female—great—but she is a female who cannot talk. In a time when women are fighting hard to be listened to, literally, and are finally achieving it, this part of the story struck a particularly sour note with me. Then again, I have been repeatedly accused of being unable to separate my political from my personal. Maybe these are my own hangups and I actually am missing something brilliant. It’s not that she doesn’t communicate throughout the movie. She does. I just don’t understand the goal of making her a mute, except to drum up sympathy for the character which feels very heavy-handed.
The other characters are similarly flat. I love Michael Shannon but his character is the most boring kind of bad guy. We don’t know why he’s such a dick--he just is. Octavia Spencer is a tiresome black sidekick stereotype with her stock phrases of “Mmm-hmm” and “Oh, honey,” not to mention her domestic abuse situation.
I get that the story is an allegory of love and intolerance. Maybe the problem for me is that I have never loved allegories. I like a story that will look a problem straight in the face and go on with saying its piece.
Clearly, the Academy did not take my complaints into account because The Shape of Water has the most nominations of any film this year with 13. Best Picture, Lead Actress for Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins for supporting actor [he plays Elisa’s gay neighbor], Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, Best Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Original Score, and Costume Design.
What to make: Something with hard boiled eggs is obvious here. Deviled eggs or egg salad would work nicely for a party. This next suggestion my husband gets either the credit or blame for, whichever you want to assign: hot dogs cut in half with mustard on them, to symbolize Michael Shannon’s character’s lost fingers.