A Wrinkle in Time: A film review with a difference

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-19 at 09.18.40(1)It’s not every day you have to say “no” to meeting Ava DuVernay.

Having a full-time day job means I do have to decline quite a few of the invitations I get, but this one really hurt. And I was honestly really excited about seeing the film. Luckily, I had the perfect stand-in up my sleeve: web series whizz, producer, actor and writer Rochelle Dancel, who attended a roundtable with Ava and A Wrinkle in Time’s lead actress, 14yo Storm Reid.

Rochelle was all set to guest post a film review here too, when another wonderful friend, blogging powerhouse Vicki of Honest Mum, asked me if I’d like to stand in for her husband at the premiere of the film, along with stylist Lauren Jobling and the highly motivating Lucy Hird. Um, YES? Best of all, we’d get to hear Ava and all the main cast (including ZOMG OPRAH) speak at a Q&A beforehand and I not-so-quietly died inside with happiness.

So this post, while containing a film review, is a little different. We’ll look at our thoughts going in, what we thought of the film itself, and what we learned from the cast and director – so if you’re just looking for film info, head for the middle bits. No spoilers.

A culture shift

RD: Admittedly, I was a little bit apprehensive about going to see this. I am clearly not the target audience, and I don’t have kids. So the lens I naturally had through which to watch this was borne from everything I’d read about it: strong female leads, directed by one of only a handful of women to have a $100m+ budget and, in the week I saw it, the first time two films helmed by African-American directors had the number 1 and 2 spots in the US box office (shoutout Black Panther). I think it’s very difficult not to consider this film in the current social and political climate, which I’m sure also had a part to play in the creative changes they made from the book e.g. the decision to create a blended family with adopted children from different ethnic backgrounds. But it all works. Regardless, I invite any grown-ups going to see it to leave all of that at the door, and bring their younger, teenage selves into the theatre.

AG: I’m pretty much fully in touch with my inner child – potentially more than my sensitive 7yo is. If I didn’t love L’Engle’s source material – and I’m afraid I didn’t – I put this down to being 30 years a little too old when I read it, but that hadn’t stopped me being really excited to see the film. I’ll come back to the Q&A I saw directly before in a moment, but what really framed the viewing for me was the DuVernay asked everyone in the audience aged 6-16 to stand up. And then told them specifically that this film was for them, and invited the rest of us to put ourselves in their shoes. Sometimes it can feel like saying “this was made for kids” is seen as negative – or it actively excludes adults from enjoying it – but I actually prefer for films to know who they’re for. For example, my daughter and I both enjoyed Inside Out at the time, but neither of us have wanted to watch it again since because the more we look back at it the less we know what it’s for; she found it a bit long-winded for kids, I found it a bit basic for adults.

A brief history of A Wrinkle in Time

Based on a much-loved children’s novel from Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, whose parents are notable physicists – but whose ambitious work is greeted with incredulity when it seems to go too far. Meg’s father disappears in the course of his research, and for four years his family – Meg, her mother and her brother, Charles Wallace – know nothing of how or why, making Meg angry and closed off. Just as it looks as if she’ll have to accept he’s never coming back, a trio of outlandish guides show up to suggest there could still be hope of unravelling the mystery and saving the day – if Meg can only find the strength in herself.

A few of our favourite things

RD: My favourite thing about this film is that our lead character isn’t a superhero: she doesn’t have to transform to be anything superhuman to do anything over and above what she has previously perceived herself to be. She’s perfect exactly as she is, flaws and all, and I think that’s a major point of difference from other films that may be thrown into the same category, especially for young people.

AG: Yes! I would have killed for a female lead that was kind of nerdy when I was a kid. But even more for a girl who wears glasses and can’t see without them and doesn’t have to remove them to be ‘beautiful’. I know that’s very specific, but seriously. It’s so rare that the removal of glasses to reveal physical beauty has become a trope. Meg’s physical appearance is almost entirely irrelevant except in terms of her being asked to accept herself as she is.

I’m all for films making proud statements, and I found myself wanting to stand up and clap as one theme after another was teased out – from facing the realities of teen life, to family dynamics, adoption, siblinghood and accepting the fallibility of the most loving parent. But there were lots of other things about A Wrinkle in Time I enjoyed that were purely dramatic. I thought the pacing was perfect, and I’m a harsh judge of films that outstay their welcome. The central performances – especially Reid and Deric McCabe – were terrific. I can only imagine the skill it takes to coax such natural performances from young actors. It’s also just really beautiful to look at. In many ways it reminded me of Tomorrowland, with its audacious scope and proudly female tone.

RD: I also thought the young actors were amazing. At the roundtable, Ava described Deric McCabe as exuberant, and it truly is the perfect adjective for him. He is so fiercely committed to his character, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does in future. Of her lead actress, Ava said, “Storm Reid is one of the most deeply feeling actors I’ve ever worked with of any age – I compare here with David Oyelowo who played Dr King in Selma in terms of the depth of the way that she feels about her characters.” I was immediately struck by the respect that Ava has for her young actors, and she went on to say that, as the director, she made sure that they knew they could try anything, and that she would be there to catch them. I think this reassurance shows in the final film: intuitive, confident and beautiful performances all around.

AG: I have to acknowledge a couple of avoidable issues. One was chunks of surprisingly clunky dialogue – not at all what you usually get from a film co-written by Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph), and it meant Mindy Kaling in particular suffered from not enough to do. My main familiarity with DuVernay’s other work is 13th, a documentary, so I’m not sure if it’s her usual feature-film style to get quite so vertiginous. I did see the film in IMAX, but I found the regular extreme close ups slightly queasy, and sometimes the technique seemed to undermine the intimacy instead of underscore it.

RD: I enjoyed the concept of the Mrs characters; they’re like a squad of fairy godmothers with whom you don’t always agree or understand, but will come through for you in the end. I didn’t find them entirely cohesive though. Reese Witherspoon was perfect: Elle Woods, having had a career change, in an alternate universe. I really wish that Oprah had had more screen time; she’s always very reassuring, and both the actress and character did serve to ground the film in the little time she was there. Unfortunately, although I am a huge Mindy Kaling fan, I found that the majority of her dialogue – interjected quotes a la inspirational Instagram feed – made it really difficult to see her beyond two dimensions or connect her to the journey of the main characters.

AG: On a parenting note, I’d add that, while the themes are probably most strongly resonant for the middle of the 6-16 group, it’s pretty friendly to the whole age range. I talk a lot about my daughter being a gentle soulThe Jungle Book was too much for her – but she’s super excited to see Wrinkle and so far my judgement is that she’ll be completely fine with it. The scariest bit is mostly implied (unless you have a phobia of trees or branches) and she’ll probably miss some of the nuance there until she’s older anyway.

Hearing from the filmmakers

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RD: As I’ve worked with young actors, which means I’ve met many parents, I asked Reid what her advice would be to parents whose kids wanted to get into acting, and I was totally floored by the maturity and insight of this response: “I think that if I were to tell parents – well, you’re not supposed to tell parents anything because you’re supposed to respect them – but I would just say that, if your kid wants to do it, let them do it, and as long as they are having fun and they are enjoying it, they should be doing it, and if they’re doing the right things at home and being good people then you should let them do it. If your kid doesn’t have the same interests as you, then I don’t think that you should force your kid into something because that’s when they become resentful or that’s not when they want to put 150% into something – and not only just acting.”

AG: Storm Reid. STORM REID. She was so immensely poised at the Q&A, talking about the reality of having to find strength inside yourself as a girl or woman in this world, and especially as a girl or woman of colour. Between that and Oprah’s rallying cry to look for the positives – the uprisings, the revolutions – in every difficult and painful piece of political news, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. DuVernay also took the time to call out to the men in the room and ask them to stand up if they’re good allies; you see that figure reflected in the character of Calvin, a model for how to fight for someone else and for change even when it looks like you’re holding all the cards (and it takes time to show that all might not be as it seems).

RD: So to sum up: the film isn’t perfect. It is flawed. But in the same way that Mrs. Whatsit gifts Meg her faults, I think the film’s flaws serve to highlight the film’s strengths: courage, strength and beauty – enough of each to love it exactly as it is.

AG: That’s such a perfect summary, I’m leaving it right there. 

 

A Wrinkle in Time is out in UK cinemas from 23rd March. Thank you to Disney UK for the opportunity to send Rochelle to the roundtable and a screening, and to Honest Mum and Disney UK for the chance to attend the European premiere and Q&A. All thoughts and opinions our own (apart from where we’re quoting others, obviously…).

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Why the most important character in Lady Bird wasn’t Lady Bird.

152114145-53734699-17a8-476a-b35c-ad5c955869bc(Contains spoilers if you haven’t yet seen Lady Bird. Though you should get on with it now.)

Some of us are born Julies.

The story isn’t often about us – and when it is, or at least when we get a chunk of the story, it’s usually not a Julie telling it and then they get it all wrong.

Julies are so often about what they lack. They’re so often about a lack of popularity, attention or time in the sun. They’re about not fitting in the dress or not being asked or being cast aside. They’re about being the odd one out the bad way – not as a charming loudmouth but as a charmless lump.

And, yes… Julie is cast aside in Lady Bird. But the delicate, nuanced way in which it is written makes it quite clear that the dumping is not, actually, about her. She’s not embarrassing. She’s hasn’t committed some awful faux pas or simply committed the crime of existing in a less fashionable figure. In fact it’s not really about her at all; Lady Bird just has some stuff to figure out, and she sees an opportunity to try being popular, and Julie – briefly – pays the price. But it is Lady Bird who learns the lesson (and, delightfully, it’s not at the cost of the humanity of the popular girl, either, who  is- as it turns out – both straightforward and, in her own way, quite sweet. And on another day maybe we’ll tackle the faceless popular girls, who usually only get to be the objects of the story, and not the story themselves. But for now, Julie’s getting her due).

Julies usually have a crying scene. But far too often it’s about male rejection or body hatred or bitterness. This Julie rightly cries because of something that actually matters: ill treatment at the hands of her friend. And this Julie rightly has her happy, interesting ending – she is the first of the two to have an opportunity to spread her wings offered to her. She might not be the one the camera follows out of town, but Julie has her own rich and complex family dynamic, and she’s off to try to make sense of it.

When I was a teenager, I’d have given anything for a Julie in a popular film, or on TV. Girls like me – a little bigger, louder, weirder than the others – were punchline or a cautionary tale. Julie’s only moment of being a joke, when she’s allowed a little dash of quiet devastation at her handsome teacher’s stunning, pregnant wife, is universal enough that anyone could have had it – crushing on a teacher (and realising they have a real, non-school life) is hardly a niche fat girl phenomenon.

Julie isn’t a frump or a fool; she is perhaps one of nature’s supporting players, but the support is genuine and loving and powerful. Maybe the films will always be about the Lady Birds but they won’t be good films without the Julies. In a film with so many ways of looking at the complexity of female relationships, Julie comes second only to Lady Bird’s mother in her importance – and that will remain true even if, as implied, they eventually go their separate ways and grow apart.

There have been times when, if I’m honest, I resented being a Julie. But it was always times when other people pushed me into the tired odd-bod narratives. Like that English teacher who gave us permanent roles for the whole term in As You Like It and made sure that our Jenna was Phoebe, our Lady Bird was Rosalind and our Danny, Jacques … while our Julie (me) got both Dukes (as if one wasn’t dull enough).  A small thing, but small-minded – and those are the things that grow petty burrs and stick in the brain until you look up and realise 20 years have passed. But I have been fortunate to know and love both other Julies and many Lady Birds (sadly, I’ve also definitely known at least one Kyle). When we cast each other in roles we do it with generosity and admiration. Which is exactly why a female creator was the only one who could really shape a Julie that spoke to me (even if I suspect she was never much of a Julie herself).

When my daughter – very possibly a future Julie – reaches a certain age, I will sit her in front of Lady Bird. It will be too soon for her to understand the mother-daughter story, even though she’ll think she understands it, but I can wait for that to make sense some time in the future. I’ll give her the gift of Julie, and the chance to see if not someone like her (who knows? She might yet be Jenna) then someone like me, fully realised and fully acceptable.

For what a gift it has been – even belatedly – to me.

My 2018 Word of the Year

2017 has been… a good year for comedy. Politically, whatever point on the spectrum of opinion you occupy, you’ve probably felt aggrieved. Being in a country that doesn’t know where it’s going or why it’s going there but by God it’ll go there with conviction isn’t necessarily the most inspiring context to live in, but I recognise it takes a massive level of luck to even be concerned with any sort of personal growth. But, you know, you’re on a blog not a news channel, on a post entirely about self-actualisation, so you kind of asked for some self-centered pontificating.

Looking back at my previous words of the year, many of them were about mindset – about thought, rather than action. And that makes sense – action takes practice, and thinking makes it possible. I may or may not be able to accurately attribute actions I took to fostering those mindsets, but I do it anyway. For example:

2013: Decisiveness > changed jobs, deciding that yes, frankly, I could work for an agency and be good at it (spoiler alert: I could indeed).

2014: Creativity > started sharing my probably terrible but heartfelt art in public (the results of this are still working themselves out in various projects and exciting ideas)

2015: Asking > a small mountain of small asks that altogether allowed me to accept taking up space in the world.

2016: Value > I think I might have seen more of the results of this in 2017 than 2016, especially when combined with…

2017: Chance > packed in a level of security to go for a fast-paced job in a sector I’d never worked in, leading people who are very likely smarter than me.

Of these, only ‘asking’ is an action – the rest are much more ambiguous; deliberately so, as I wasn’t interested in narrowing my field of vision. But I do have a slight problem with focus. I’ve often wondered if my love of the V&A is down to operating like a series of Victorian fads all on my own; I develop crazes and obsessions, start a project… and then leave it foundering. In contrast to my paid, out-of-home work, where I tend to be dogged, I pick up and drop personal projects, leaving a bog of abandoned hopes behind me. A large portion of this is fear – it’s no coincidence that many things get shelved just as I’m required to take the next steps to make them fly. And a chunk of it is being tired, lazy or distracted: by ongoing health problems I need to argue with my doctor about (if it looks like a thyroid issue, hurts like a thyroid issue but you won’t properly test for a thyroid issue, does anyone hear the tree falling?), by bills to be paid (£420 to remove four of the cat’s teeth?!), by raising the most wonderful child (who can also be a PITA on the regular), by taking the leap to change jobs (and living up to my own hype) or by horrible family illness (I can’t be flip about this one; just trust me that it’s terrible).

Still, I don’t want my word of the year to be about completing things, because I am nothing if not a contrary younger child. Tell me that I must and I will tell you that I won’t (yes, perfectly aware this is self-defeating; your point?). But knowing my own propensity to need to be inspired rather than chided, to seek carrot rather than stick, I wanted my word to suggest motivation and ongoing evolution rather than evoke the full stop: finish, complete, achieve.

I cycled through some of the more inspirational language, and quickly rejected it: blooming (sounds like acne), blossoming (yech), flying (nope).

And then it hit me. How about just… Do? It suggests the completeness of an action while including the possibility of onward motion. And it allows a level of impulsiveness that gives me permission to break down the walls in my head that suggest no, shouldn’t, couldn’t, too old, not good enough, why. I’ve already booked another stay at the best place in the world to help keep me on track but also do is for every day; I can’t fall into my pattern of thinking I’ll do that when I have time to or when I’m fitter or when I’m good enough.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this wonderful piece from Roxane Gay about following dreams at any age. It spoke to me on every level, and I knew more than ever that I couldn’t keep shying away from doing the work. I have stepped up in other areas of my life – become a more assured mother, asked for and got the job and the pay rise, complimented myself and my abilities when it’s warranted, worn the obnoxious lipstick and taken time out for myself without (too much) guilt. So at this point I have to ask myself: can a lack of confidence, a fear of failure and a dollop of pure laziness ever be worth the cost of not pursuing what brings me joy and satisfaction?

Of course not. So I’ve done the thinking… and now it’s time for doing.

Beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.

Happy New Year.

Four minute film review: The Florida Project

It’s taken me weeks of thinking about The Florida Project to even consider trying to write this in four minutes. But if I gave myself longer, I might never stop.

Named after the code for what would become Walt Disney World, The Florida Project takes place in the shadow of Cinderella Castle, centering on a young mother and daughter living a transient motel room life worlds apart from the glossy, expensive vacation kingdom up the road. An astonishing performance from Brooklynn Prince sends us into the story through the eyes of a child – a foul-mouthed, whip-smart, fascinating child, in turn worlds apart from the usual syrupy fare Hollywood dishes up. Her outstanding chemistry with influencer-turned-actress Bria Vinaite, who is utterly compelling, is the beating heart of the film.  Yet possibly the smartest trick The Florida Project pulls is dressing up an incredibly tight structure in the loose garments of what is so well written it all sounds like improvisation. No setup is wasted, no lines are indulgent, no performance is over or undersold; everything feeds back into the whirlwind. It’s a queasy dervish that draws you in with such lightness that – even though the breadcrumbs are there all along – you don’t quite realise how comprehensively it’s breaking your heart until the final moments.  Absolutely one of the best things you’ll see this year.

Film review: Paddington 2

Quad_Fairground_AW_[32622] Paddington 2

I’ll dollop on marmalade analogy early: this film is deliciously sweet, but with a gently tart edge, and if there were a cinematic equivalent of comfort food this would be it. But it would be unreasonably twee to spread it on too thick, given this is a film that wears charm on its sleeve, but never becomes sickly.

Once again voiced by the wonderful Ben Whishaw, Paddington is on a mission to buy a thoughtful birthday present – a unique book about London – for his Aunt Lucy (the voice of Imelda Staunton). This first requires getting a job (no mean feat for the delightfully naive little soul who seems to be a magnet for accidental trouble) but things take a turn for a elaborately worse when a thief gets his hands on the precious book and disappears in a puff of smoke – leaving Paddington to get the blame and the Brown family with the task of putting the clues together and clearing his name.

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Hugh Grant dominates a stellar cast in what is probably his finest, and certainly most hilarious, role. He spares no flourish for a barnstorming performance as ageing showman – and master of disguise – Phoenix Buchanan, who is busily switching accents and wigs as he plots to get his hands on a hidden treasure that could radically change his fortunes now he’s reduced to dog food ads and local appearances. The bulk of the remaining laughs come from Brendan Gleeson’s menacing prison inmate, who forms an unlikely alliance with our fluffy friend while they’re both behind bars. It’s testament to the quality of the film that it’s packed with big names and brief cameos  – no monstrous egos on show besides Buchanan’s.

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Everything is just so perfectly judged, with a brilliant blend of slapstick humour – largely piled on the unfortunate head of Tom Conti’s grumpy judge – and witty asides mixed in with lots of loveliness as the residents of Windsor Gardens come to realise how much better life is with a marmalade-loving bear in the mix. Paul King and Simon Farnaby don’t spare the undertone, with a showdown between Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville) and mean-spirited NIMBY-ite jobsworth Mr. Curry (Peter Capaldi) about welcoming in strangers providing a little bit of a bite for the adults in the audience.

With the world as it is right now, this is the charming, open-hearted comedy audiences of all ages need to see and be soothed by – one where we can believe that with enough faith in the power of human goodness, all can be made right.

Paddington 2 goes on general release from November 10th.

Parents’ note: my rather sensitive 7yo really enjoyed this – a few belly laughs and she was genuinely moved at moments. It’s the kind of thing that tends to sweep kids of all ages along with it, but there’s nothing to alarm the youngest or more sensitive souls.

Tickets were kindly provided by ThinkJam PR on behalf of the production for us to see the film. Opinions are entirely my own, as ever. If you’ve seen the film or want to find out more, join Paddington on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Four minute film review: Thor: Ragnarok

These are good times for comedy. Giving the most maverick wing of the MCU outside Guardians of the Galaxy – this one ripe for resurgence following a shaky sequel – to a reliably off-the-wall comedy genius managed to be both a brave and low-risk move from Marvel; fortunately, Taika Waititi doesn’t disappoint.

In his first work to involve massive budgets and existing characters, he effortlessly pins his intimate, wise-cracking style on the overblown, operatic drama of the Thor franchise. It gives Thor (Chris Hemsworth) ample opportunities to stretch his comic muscles while letting Loki (Tom Hiddleston in the best terrible wig so far) a little off the leash and channelling the dry wit in the latter’s constantly challenged dignity rather than the raw rage seen in previous incarnations. The plot is messy but fun, the set pieces full of opportunities to lovingly re-create comic book panels and the director’s fondness for pratfalls lampoons any moment that threatens to crumble under its own CGI. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is neon joy and Cate Blanchett’s death goddess utterly beguiling if a fraction underused; on the flipside Karl Urban will join Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke in bad accent purgatory and – the biggest shame – Tessa Thompson hasn’t hit her stride yet, largely lacking conviction. You’ll laugh, and then you’ll laugh some more as Waititi blends humour and warmth so deftly he ought to have James Gunn sharpening his pencils – and his wits. This is my Guardians – and I loved it so much more.

*written in four minutes. Because this.

BFI London Film Festival 2017: four-minute film reviews (The Meyerowitz Stories; Battle of the Sexes; Call Me By Your Name; The Shape of Water)

I’m taking a different approach to my festival filmgoing this year – a round-up rather than a post for each. I’m sure SEO experts will be shaking their heads and I’m certainly not winning on frequency or volume of content, but I’m hoping this will mean a distillation of quality – more useful stuff, delivered more efficiently, with less waffling.

She says, waffling.

Anyway. This is what I saw, and these are my thoughts – written in four minutes or fewer.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Writer / director Noah Baumbach turns his lens on notions of success and failure in life and art, with the help of a gorgeously restrained performance from Dustin Hoffman bookended by smart takes from Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller – who are given specific set-pieces to channel their usual energetic performances into so they don’t overwhelm the all-important quiet. Strikingly edited and deftly constructed, it’s warm, witty and truthful – and Baumbach nails quirks so much more invitingly and incisively than his sometime collaborator Wes Anderson. Its weakness is in its women; less well-developed than the men around them – and at times almost uncomfortably drawn as the maiden, the would-be mother and the crone – there is a strong whiff of missed opportunity as Emma Thompson feels miscast and Elizabeth Marvel underused. That said, it’s unquestionably a lingerer with some beautifully written and cannily observed family conversations that make it well worth a shot – and it’s on Netflix any day now, so there’s no excuse not to.

Battle of the Sexes

Oh, how terrible this could have been – but blissfully isn’t. Filled with energy and an assured lightness of touch from Simon Beaufoy’s sparkling script, the story of young and ambitious Billie Jean King taking on the ageing but still potent self-styled chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs, could have been beset by stumbling blocks: a living subject, a known outcome and a watered-down message. They’re all neatly brushed aside in a funny, smart and even-handed take which allows both Billie’s and Bobby’s stories to breathe before building to the climactic match with genuine tension. There could have been a little more explanation of Larry King (who in every particular resembles Fred from Scooby Doo) and Alan Cumming’s well-meaning ‘flamboyant fashion designer’ seems to be the voice of LGBTQ+ politics with a direct line to the future, but it’s all ultimately forgivable in a message film that avoids queasy moralising in favour of simply pointing out how right it so obviously is. Emma Stone blends steely and breezy apparently effortlessly, Steve Carrell deftly sidesteps any mawkishness to make Bobby occasionally even sympathetic – while Sarah Silverman steps in to steal the odd scene with maybe the best 70s hair ever seen on screen. A feel-good winner for sure.

Call Me By Your Name

The pinnacle of the festival for me, this dreamy take on André Aciman’s book from Luca Guadagnino is suffused with Italian summer sunlight and is every inch a James Ivory adaptation. If it has a flaw it is this tendency to cast everything in soft focus – a queer love story for straight people like me – but it stays so resolutely on-the-nose about first love and burgeoning sexuality that it’s hard to hold that against it for too long (that’s what he said, etc). Timothée Chalamet is outrageously good and Armie Hammer outrageously charismatic; while there’s little room for anyone else to command the screen, Michael Stuhlbarg gleams in the supporting role of the benignly yearning outsider. I could watch the end credits for hours.

The Shape of Water

A gloriously evocative mood piece that ultimately favours style over substance. Intended as a fairy tale period piece with a very modern sting in the messaging – absolutely a commentary on our current crises – it sings most powerfully when the wildly captivating Sally Hawkins leads us deftly through the pattern of her mundane days and then the incredible positive disruption that the arrival of an intriguing underwater specimen causes. When it centres on Michael Shannon – commanding but inexplicable – it loses some of its subtlety and depth, and yet again it is Michael Stuhlbarg to the rescue as the voice of the outsider in a moving subplot that I wanted more of. Sadly, Octavia Spencer is wasted on a character that skirts around the edges of stereotype as she gossips endlessly about her husband while occasionally Del Toro gives in to his ghoulish side to deliver some gratuitously grim thrills; one particular stunt with a cat feels like a cheap trick. Still, for all of this – and despite granular plot points that don’t stand up to close examination – the naming of the mysterious facility housing the ‘creature’, Occam, reminds us that we might as well have faith. And what The Shape of Water lacks in depth, it delivers in both faith and heart, making it a flawed but still compelling offering.