A completely charming film by the master director Guillermo del Toro: every scene, every shot had visual beauty and plot significance. The caricature of 1950s America was comically dead-on, but not distracting – notably, Michael Shannon’s Dick and Jane family and Richard Jenkins’s Norman Rockwell art. Shannon was wonderfully evil, Octavia Spencer provided her usual semi-comic relief, and Sally Hawkins was Oscar-worthy in the difficult role of playing sweet, empathetic and fearful (and fully nude), all without speaking. The ultimate compliment may be this: while I judged various aspects of the film for its realism, it never occurred to me to question the Amazonian amphibian, the “asset,” that was at the center of the movie. Like a magician, del Toro diverted the viewer’s attention from his trick and made his fantasy world seem real and alive.
James Ivory’s gay wet dream goes from languorous to tedious about halfway through: how many slow-motion man-boy embraces do we need, or “let’s strip to our trunks and go for a swim”? (I subsequently read of screenwriter Ivory’s disappointment that both male stars had a no-nudity provision in their contracts.) More annoying were the unconvincing attempts to establish the academic bona fides of Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg’s characters. In fact, Hammer didn’t seem convincing as anything – latter-day Greek god, perhaps? – and Stuhlbarg seemed more Hammer’s younger brother than mentor. Timothee Chalamet was excellent, and the Tuscan countryside was prime Merchant-Ivory territory; but all the subplots and lunches with totally incidental secondary characters reminded me of New Wave cinema but didn’t do much for this story. I was more invested in counting all the cigarettes that got smoked.
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