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David Oyelowo’s kid-friendly The Water Man does better with the realism than the magic, but that’s okay

Lonnie Chavis as Gunner in The Water Man.
Karen Ballard/RLJE films

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    The Water Man
    Directed by David Oyelowo
    Written by Emma Needell
    Starring Rosario Dawson, David Oyelowo and Alfred Molina
    Classification PG; 91 minutes


Magic realism – it’s tough to nail both. In this unapologetically sincere family film, his directorial debut, the actor David Oyelowo (Selma) does better with the realism than the magic. But that’s okay, because the realism is more important.

Gunner (Lonnie Chavis, who plays young Randall on This is Us) is a good kid going through a tough time. He’s moved to a new town in rural Oregon; his strict father (Oyelowo) only recently rejoined the family after working abroad, and his beloved mother (Rosario Dawson) is gravely ill. Local lore has it that the Water Man, who roams the deep woods in a bear coat, holds the secret to immortality. So Gunner, led by the punky Jo (Amiah Miller), sets off to find him.

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Rosario Dawson plays Gunner's mother.

Karen Ballard/RLJE films via AP

Oyelowo is clearly going for an E.T./Stand by Me vibe – a smart goal – but the Water Man myth feels incomplete. What is magical, though, is the chance to root for a young Black male hero as he navigates a family crisis that’s both specific and universal, and not based on race.

The Water Man is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and Google Play, starting May 25


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Amiah Miller plays the punky Jo.

Karen Ballard/RLJE films

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.
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