IFE Film Review: Fish meets girl in Oscar bait The Shape of Water

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Whether it takes home the Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards tomorrow night or not, Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-nominated The Shape of Water is a modern masterpiece that will surely be talked about for years to come.

Does that mean it’s perfect? No. Does that mean that everyone will be able to get behind an overtly sexual interspecies love story set during the height of the Cold War about a mute night janitor with a gay best friend? Definitely not. But those who dare to dip even a toe into this glorious mash-up of monster movie/spy thriller/love story tropes, will be knocked off their feet. And even those who hate Water will surely agree that they’ve never seen anything like it.

One of the most boldly original films in an award season overflowing with them, Water is also easily del Toro’s finest film to date. And considering that the Mexican-born del Toro is the movie geek madman behind such instant classics as Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos, and Crimson Peak, that’s really saying something.

A rich, soaringly beautiful love letter to the classic Hollywood films that influenced him as a boy, Water (which del Toro co-wrote with Game of Thrones scribe Vanessa Taylor) incorporates elements from vintage monster movies and musical comedies, fairy tales, mid-century melodramas, and even European art films and The Little Mermaid to deliver a wholly original love story that is totally transformative. And though del Toro has always lovingly championed the freaks and weirdos at the edges of so-called “polite society” in his films, in Water, he and Taylor take that concept to dizzying new heights by giving us a story that celebrates the oddball otherness in us all – a theme that could not be more timely or relevant in Trump’s America.

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Starring Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky) as Elisa, a mute janitor at a top-secret government lab in the 1960s, Water tells the story of what happens when the lonely, lovelorn Elisa falls in love with a mysterious amphibious creature (played by del Toro veteran Doug Jones in an Oscar-worthy role) being held in one of the water tanks at work.

Bringing a beautiful sense of longing and humanity to his classic “monster” role, Jones is the perfect match for Hawkins’ quiet strength as Elisa and watching the two find love in the most unlikely of places is wildly romantic. Some have been put off by Jones’ strange, fish-like appearance, but I gotta tell ya, these star-crossed, interspecies lovers make Twilight’s Edward and Bella look like amateurs. And the scene featured on the film’s posters – with Elisa and the creature holding one another underwater – is Beauty-and-the-Beastballroom-scene beautiful. Truly powerful stuff!

Also featuring stunning supporting turns from Best Supporting Actor nominee Richard Jenkins (Spotlight, Kong: Skull Island) as Elisa’s closeted gay best friend/neighbor, Giles, Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted) as Elisa’s fiercely loyal co-worker, Zelda, and Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals, The Night Before) as the villainous Colonel Strickland, Water might dazzle you with its visuals. After all, the film was nominated for 13 Oscars in all, including nods for Best Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and Costumes. But it’s Water’s big, sweepingly romantic heart that will linger in your memories forever.

Still screening to sell out crowds in brick and mortar theaters around the globe, The Shape of Water is now playing on select Delta, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, and Qatar Airways flights worldwide.

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