‘Shape of Water’ enjoyable, can’t help but feel underwhelming

So we’re just gonna gloss over how weird it is to want to have sex with a frog person? Call it a “love is love” thing? OK, I guess. Images courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

8/10 The no. 1 movie of the year at the box office is Beauty and the Beast. Its top Oscar contender is Mutey and the Frog Person.

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water follows Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who serves as the janitor at a top-secret government facility in Baltimore alongside Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). One day, Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) bring in a top secret specimen to study in the hopes that it’ll help them in the space race. Esposito and Fuller are given access to the chamber to clean it, and they discover it’s a frog person (Doug Jones). Esposito was rendered mute as an infant. She starts teaching it sign language, and she starts to fall in love with the frog person. Eventually, she needs to boost it from the facility, because Strickland wants to dissect it.

This love story about a differently abled person and a frog person is set in 1962 and also features a black woman and a gay old man in Esposito’s roommate, Giles (Richard Jenkins), so there’s a lot of social justice stuff going on here. It almost reminds me of Crash, but done right, expressing equality by presenting everyone as equals instead of making everyone suffer equally from stupid racism.

Through the first half or so, The Shape of Water follows all of its characters roughly equally. Almost every major and minor character gets a scene in which we get to check out their home life, and their houses all have aesthetics that are unique and different, the whole thing is almost episodic.

The vibrant characters and colors — they change based on setting, but it mostly sticks to a cheeky red and green palette — make The Shape of Water a fun, pleasant watch. Even the darker elements of its plot are kind of playful.

This thing is supposed to be a sexy river god from the Amazon? No. No, this is a frog person.

This is the movie del Toro has wanted to make since he was a small child and first saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon. He saw the scene where the frog person in that was swimming parallel to the lady, and he thought it was going to turn into a love story instead of a slasher. But ever since then, he’s wanted to make a movie about a forbidden love story with a frog person, and that’s The Shape of Water.

Del Toro’s reputation precedes him. The beloved filmmaker is widely known for emotionally honest fairy tales with fantastic creature designs, but he’s also been consistently mildly disappointing over his career. Most of his movies are just not as good as everyone wants them to be, and that’s how I’d describe The Shape of Water. It’s a delightful, easygoing experience, but everything feels like it’s a bit less than it could be. The creature design is intricate, but kind of underwhelming. Despite clocking in at 123 lively minutes, the whole production manages to drag somehow.

I’m not completely sure what’s missing here or how to make it better. The film just kind of lets you down, in that uniquely del Toro way.

Post-Weinstein blunder: This one’s actually kind of cool because it incorporates Esposito’s disability in an active way that’s driven by another character — Strickland, throughout the film, really likes quiet. His hatred of the frog person stems from the sound it makes, and in one mildly horrifying scene, he insists that his wife be completely silent while they have sex. It makes sense that he would develop an attraction to his mute janitor. At one point, the married colonel calls her into his office and tries to give her the full Weinstein. It’s meant to be as creepy as it is, so it’s not exactly a blunder, but still much more uncomfortable for the audience after going through the #metoo moment than it would have been before.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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