David Oyelowo’s family feature is quite absorbing.
David Oyelowo makes his feature directorial debut of “The Water Man,” which is an independent family film about fantasy and reality-a crucial combo for most delightful family features. The opening credits explain that the Water Man is a mysterious figure who comes out of a lake at night, although they don’t frighten its targeted audience. At least I think not considering that it’s an artisan film that reminded me of “The Secret of the Roan Inish” with its tone and heart.
I know this one isn’t Irish, but I’m just giving an example of how family entertainment doesn’t always need to rely on the Disney logo or big names to make them hits. Family entertainment is about stories that both kids and adults can relate to, and “The Water Man” is well-meaning for older kids and interesting for adults.
We meet Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis), an aspiring young writer, who’s adjusting to his new town with his parents (Oyelowo and Rosario Dawson). He is in the process of writing a graphic novel about a detective trying to solve his own murder, while his Marine father Amos tries to connect with him, and his mother Mary is ill with leukemia. That’s when he decides to put his novel on the back burner, and do some research on the disease.
Back to the Water Man story, Gunner learns about him and his immortality, and seeks more details from a wise old hermit (Alfred Molina), and a young blue-dyed haired runaway named Jo (Amiah Miller from “War of the Planet of the Apes”). The old man tells him he’s hoping to track down his missing father, while the girl claims she got a scar from him. So, Gunner takes his father’s samurai sword, which he uses for protection, in the woods with her to track down the Water Man.
While Gunner is on his mission, Amos begins searching for him, with some help from the local sherif (Maria Bello). During his worrying, he feels the boy doesn’t love him, especially after he yelled at him for being shocked about his mom losing her hair. From his perspective, he tells Jo that he isn’t good enough for his father.
Some of the fantasies kick in when it snows in the forest in July. And the reality is full of truth and courage. The boy is willing to save his mother, whether or not we, the audience, believes the creature exists.
“The Water Man” has an 80s/90s vibe that keeps you involved, and has vivid characters worth liking. Oyelowo does some fine work in front of and behind the camera as both the father and director. And he also guides Chavis with a personal study and a lot of heart. His character isn’t formulaic or artificial; he’s a smart young man with his passion in drawing and writing, and his love for his mother. And he also has his moments with some nice supporting work from Miller, Dawson, and Molina.
Sure, certain moments are obligatory, but this still has the adventure, sweetness, and creativity that I looked for and missed in “Come Away,” which also stared Oyelowo. After “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “The Water Man” is your kids’ next best choice. That is if you’ve heard about it.