A few hours ago a critic friend took me to task for what he regarded as a slightly-too-friendly review of Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water, which I posted on 9.3. Here’s our conversation:

Critic friend: “I’m a decided non-fan of The Shape of Water, which puts me squarely in the minority. Which is fine.

“But I was struck by this paragraph in your write-up: ‘Alas, Shape isn’t perfect. It’s a full emotional meal but saddled, I regret to say, with an implausible story, even by the measure of a fairy tale. It contains unlikely occurences, curious motives and logical roadblocks, all of which have to be elbowed aside by the viewer in order to stay within the flow of it. Which — don’t get me wrong — I was totally willing to do because I so loved the overall.’

“Frankly, the qualifications you have — implausible story (even by the standards of a fairy tale), curious motives, etc. — sound much more major than your reasons for liking it. Why on earth is this glorified piece of production design “a full emotional meal”? If you found it so, go with God, but please explain.

“It doesn’t sound like you were even bothered by my #1 reason for not responding to it: The gill-man is…a blank!! A rubbery body suit in search of a single character trait.”

HE response: “I liked that GDT was once again off in his realm, confidently occupying his own patch, indifferent to the expectations of someone like you or me. He’s NEVER cared that much, never given a hoot about anything but the purely visual, the ripely sensual, the monster mash, the phantasm, the fangoria, etc.

“Seriously, I just decided early on that once again here was another GDT film that I would have to accept or reject. So I chose ‘okay, mostly yes.’ I decided to throw up my hands, shrug and accept it. I kept pushing away the bothersome stuff…push away, push away…because I fell in love with Sally Hawkins and her journey. I should have been tougher, I suppose, but I just didn’t have the heart to start chipping away and complaining.

“Remember that I also wrote the following: ‘If you ask me Guillermo has adhered too strictly to a black-and-white moral scheme here. I for one am always looking to find a couple of minor smudges or failings in a good character, and a sympathetic or slightly redeeming quality or two in a villain, but this kind of complexity is not, I regret to say, in the Shape of Water cards.”

Critic friend: “I thought Hawkins was great, but I just felt detached from the whole thing. But then, I always feel that way with Del Toro. I’m not a cultist for him — quite the contrary. I thought Pan’s Labyrinth was the world’s most pretentious Muppet movie, and basically I think he’s a genius production designer impersonating a filmmaker.

“Certainly, TSOW has the outline — the design — of a classic fable; you really feel that he’s trying for something. And I’m personally an addict for that early-’60s period, so full of pre-media mystery.

“Yet to me, the whole (preposterous) (unconvincing) story winds up being a kind of metaphor for everything that’s wrong with him as a filmmaker. He’s an artist in love with…creatures. Monsters. Effects. Things. Technology.

“Okay, I get it. There’s a place for that. I love creatures too; but I love it when they’re great creatures. I grew up with The Creature From the Black Lagoon (who was just trying to creep you out, but was still a more poignant character than this one). But how can we get caught up in a beauty-and-the-beast love story when the beast looks like the Creature From the Wal-Mart Lagoon, and he doesn’t have, you know, a personality?

“I’ll shut up. Thanks for indulging me. I was just flabbergasted at the rapture that it got here in Venice. Your level-headed, mixed-but-still-swoony response was far more interesting and convincing to me.”