Writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s spectacular new film, “The Shape of Water,” opens Dec. 15 at the Ritz Five. It’s a fabulous fantasy about outsiders that queer audiences will absolutely embrace.
Set in 1962, Elisa (Sally Hawkins in an Oscar-worthy performance) is a mute who works with Zelda (Octavia Spencer, sassy as always) as part of the janitorial staff at a government laboratory. Elisa’s best friend and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), is an illustrator whose designs are turned down by ad agencies. He also has romantic designs on the Pie Guy (Morgan Kelly) at a local café. When a strange “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) arrives in the laboratory, Elisa silently communicates with the creature, and they fall in love.
“The Shape of Water” is heartfelt, as viewers will be rooting for the “romance” between Elisa and the creature. There is also considerable (and comic) suspense as Giles, Zelda and Elisa become empowered trying to rescue the creature by kidnapping him from the lab. The film also provides a marvelous showcase for Del Toro’s wondrous, imaginative set pieces, such as a breathtaking waterlogged sequence that unfolds in Elisa and Giles’ apartment building.
The filmmaker even takes pains to poke fun at the 1960s Cold War paranoia, and there is considerable enjoyment watching Strickland (Michael Shannon), a federal agent, try to puzzle out what Elisa and Zelda are up to.
While viewers may have to suspend disbelief for some of the film’s plotting and action, the dazzling combination of romance, fantasy and satire is highly satisfying.