Film Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

 Doug Jones & Sally Hawkins in  The Shape of Water  | Fox Searchlight

Doug Jones & Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water | Fox Searchlight

Hey, you know what movie is so ~blah~ that, despite having plenty Oscar nominations, it’s still not being talked about? THE FISH MOVIE. 

I mentioned this in my review of Paddington 2, but I truly believe Sally Hawkins was better served in that movie than in The Shape of Water. Both include scenes of her diving into water to be with an anthropomorphic animal and let’s just say the one with the fish… flopped

The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is a fairy tale story of a mute woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who falls in love and lust with a mutant fish man (Doug Jones). After careful thought, I’ve deduced that this story isn’t really about love though, as it is about a competition of manliness and manhood. There are a number of references to not just male genitalia but the idea of masculine conquest. It’s no coincidence that the fish man is first captured by Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) and other military men for experimentation in hopes of gaining one up on the Soviet Union during the Cold War Space Race (another competition of who can conquer more). And when Elisa, as a mute woman, is defiant against the hyper-masculine colonel, he makes it his personal mission to not only put the fear of sexual assault in her eyes but also destroy everything in his way to prevent her from helping the fish man escape. 

I just think there were a number of missteps taken with this film, from the treatment of Octavia fuckin’ Spencer’s character as Elisa’s helpful Black Friend and the hella overdone storyline of Elisa’s closeted neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). There’s also a level of suspension of disbelief that goes into a film and fairy tale like this, but I lost it when all the characters really truly bought into the idea of not just the (underdeveloped) romance between Elisa and the fish but that the fish had a protruding penis from which Elisa could then grind upon (which she proceeds to do many a times, including in her flooded bathroom that Giles walks in on). I mean, thank god last year’s Beauty and the Beast was only rated PG, amiright?

 Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, & Doug Jones in  The Shape of Water  | Hollywood Reporter/IndieWire

Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, & Doug Jones in The Shape of Water | Hollywood Reporter/IndieWire

But, aside from my literal reading of the film’s mechanics of human-and-animal sex, I can commend The Shape of Water for the sort of metaphor it’s portrayed about the victory of outsider love and friendship in the face of a treacherous society and an evil Straight White Man. Several commentators, from NPR to Advocate and more, have suggested that this film is made up of characters who live in the social margins, from Elisa (who is mute) to Giles (who is gay) to Zelda (who is black), as they work together to help Elisa pursue her own unconventional romance. (Though, their romance definitely could’ve benefited from more story development. She literally just fed him hella eggs.) 

The Shape of Water is now nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. If you like the color teal, you’ll probably like this movie. (For the record, I love teal and I did not love this movie). 

FilmsJane HanReview, 2010sComment