In 'The Shape of Water,' Guillermo del Toro accomplishes his 'love story without cynicism'

In 'The Shape of Water,' Guillermo del Toro accomplishes his 'love story without cynicism'

(image via FOX Searchlight)

The Shape of Water is unmistakably Guillermo del Toro.

His signature visual stylings are nailed dead to rights, but what makes the film a killer is del Toro's commitment to keeping things small. Small isn't underserved. Small is tangible, intimate, approachable. 

Here's a quick plot rundown:

Elisa is a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab's classified secret -- a mysterious, scaled creature from South America that lives in a water tank. As Elisa develops a unique bond with her new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent and a marine biologist.

Del Toro is at his best when he's working within the constraints of reality. *That* is what makes this story, and its amphibian star, a captivating experience. Aside from the creature, the film is rooted in reality. The reality of a life unfulfilled.

Shape of Water is a story about resisting the gravitational pull of life's hardships. Our characters are all fighting it, some better than others. You can hear del Toro speaking to the audience through these desperate voices. In Richard Jenkins as Giles you hear a regretful, aging artist. In Michael Shannon's Strickland you hear a man desperate to prove useful, scared to death of failure. 

Loneliness and crushing routine, embodied best by Sally Hawkins as our lead Elisa, are at the forefront of the film. That doesn't make it bleak, it makes it real. It makes a story about a woman falling in love with a creature understandable. That's an incredible achievement you can't appreciate right away.


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