Oscar Week Film Review: The Shape of Water

It has 13, yes 13!, Oscar nominations and the luminous Sally Hawkins but does Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water live up to the hype?

“Man is as silent as the grave. But if farts were flattery? Honey, he’d be Shakespeare”

First things first, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is probably one of my all-time favourite films and definitely one of the ones that affected me most, as anyone who saw me sobbing helplessly outside the cinema on Haymarket for a good ten minutes after it ended. So The Shape of Water had something to live up to and including Sally Hawkins in its cast was a good start.

And in its love story between a mute cleaning lady and a 7 foot tall fish monster captured in the Amazon and held hostage in a government research facility, it certainly treads a unique path. And though it may sound unconventional, an interspecies rom-com with additional gay and African-American sidekicks seems pretty much par for the course  in 2018.

Quite how it has managed to garner so much Oscar love is a little baffling, given the Academy’s noted lack of love for the fantasy genre. And it is probably due to the amount of heart that del Toro infuses into the film, inducing hugely emotive performances from Hawkins, Octavia Spencer’s Zelda and Richard Jenkins’ Giles and of course under all the latex, regular collaborator Doug Jones as Amphibian Man.

With nods to silent movies and sci-fi thrillers, The Shape of Water is unexpectedly interesting as it probes into the nuances of 1960s society through the prism of those who it did not serve so well – women, gays, African-Americans… And its flipping of the power dynamic (in terms of who is rescuing who) works really well, particularly as given life by Hawkins’ excellent work. The only tiny bugbear I have is that it would have been amazing to see the script flipped even further by having a deaf actress play the role, rather than the Oscar-baitiness of playing disabled.

Photograph: Allstar/Fox Searchlight Pictures

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