The Water Man Synopsis: Hoping to save his sick mother (Rosario Dawson) and grieving father (David Oyelowo), Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) ventures into the remote Wild Horse with a local acquaintance Jo (Amiah Miller) to search for a mythical figure who possesses the secret answer to immortality.
Family films have homogenized into noisy animated offerings, a trend that has left me missing the earnest live-action family efforts of yesteryear. Childhood staples of mine like Holes, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, and Where the Wild Things Are exhibited an assured balance between mature themes and approachable storytelling. It was refreshing to see open-hearted films that didn’t speak down to their intelligent young audience.
Leave it to Oscar-nominated star David Oyelowo to spiritually revive the genre with The Water Man. Oyelowo’s directorial debut, a fantastically imagined take on cancer’s pained tolls, sustains a certain level of inconsistency in its adventure-hybrid approach. It’s a challenging tonal line to manage, but the material’s earnest creativity ably elevates the missteps.
In the vein of spirited adventures like Stand By Me and A Monster’s Call, Oyelowo’s film thrives within its sneaky complexion. The director wisely incorporates a colorful lens to depict the childlike wonder permeating the character’s rustic environment, with flourishes like hand-drawn animations and vibrant lighting enhancing the perspective’s dreamy wistfulness. While the imagery may evoke a certain tone, Oyelowo starkly contrasts the optimism through his setting’s dour undertones.
Between Gunner’s terminal mother and Jo’s familial struggles, both characters exhibit how adolescents use their imaginative streaks to rationalize lingering traumas. It certainly helps that his young cast is capable of carrying the narrative load. Lonnie Chavis capably showcases Gunner’s enduring spirit and deeply-seated caring streak, while Amiah Miller has fun as his sharp-tongued friend Jo (Oyelowo, Rosario Dawson, and Alfred Molina also bring much-needed pedigree to supporting roles).
Despite noble intentions, The Water Man still finds itself in the shadow of its superior counterparts. Screenwriter Emma Needell crafts some intriguing textures within her debut effort, but the film lacks specificity in areas where it counts most. The cancer subplot rests solely on familiar contrivances to capture its human struggle, rarely landing the authentic moments needed to emotionally engage viewers. If the script presented a few more human textures, this story could have been completely revitalized from its traditional devices.
The Water Man implements its nostalgic sensibility with enough craft and ingenuity to make for a sturdy family-friendly deviation.
RLJE Films will release the adventure/drama film THE WATER MAN In Theaters on May 7, 2021.
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