Keanu Reeves as Alex Wyler
Sandra Bullock as Dr. Kate Forster
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Dr. Anna Klyczynski
Dylan Walsh as Morgan
Christopher Plummer as Simon Wyler
Willeke van Ammelrooy as Kate’s Mother
Lynn Collins as Mona
Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Henry Wyler
Directed by Alejandro Agresti
Banal, boring and unsatisfying, this attempt at romance falters because its premise never really works.
A doctor (Sandra Bullock) and an architect (Keanu Reeves) correspond via a series of letters left in the mailbox of the lake house where they both have lived. When they learn that they’re actually living on the same day two years apart, they realize how difficult it may be for them to go much further with their relationship.
Anyone who’s read science fiction or comic books or seen “Back to the Future” knows what problems and anomalies are created by introducing time travel elements into a story. It would be especially tricky when trying to tell a romantic story between characters living in different times, and it’s not too surprising that the odd premise of “The Lake House” comes from the Korean film “Il Mare,” or that it’s the latest Asian movie to be reinvented for American audiences by the producers of “The Grudge” and “The Ring.”
Kate is a single doctor who used to live in a lake house, and when she sees a man hit by a bus, she decides to revisit her old haunts to spend some time trying to get over the incident. Meanwhile, Alex, an architect, is moving into that same lake house and he finds a letter left to the next tenant by Kate. A lot of things in the letter don’t make sense and as they write back and forth, they discover that the house’s mailbox is actually the world’s smallest time machine (!) somehow allowing them to communicate with each other from the same day two years apart.
The problem with having a relationship between two characters in different time periods, besides the obvious, is that new ways need to be found to show their relationship, a filmmaking challenge that’s barely met. By its very nature, the story is told in a non-linear fashion jumping back and forth between Kate’s time (2006) and Alex’s (2004), and after a bit of mailbox tag, the two get to know each other as their correspondence is used to narrate their story. That gets pretty tiring, but fortunately, their mutual dog Jackif there isn’t enough confusion, it’s a female dog–figures out how to arrange a meeting between them in the past where Kate obviously has no idea who Alex is.
If you’re a thinking person, this premise will already have you scratching your head, though it seems like the kind of thing that might work in an Asian film. As soon as it’s brought into our world, it ends up being so ridiculous you have to immediately suspend any disbelief if you don’t want to be frustrated for the entire movie. Besides the fact that it’s never explained how a mailbox can send letters and other things back in forth in time–magic?–there are so many obvious and unforgivable holes in the premise that trying to elaborate on all the anomalies would essentially spoil the movie. Of course, you’d have to be pretty dim not to figure out all the twists immediately, but they’re even more aggravating when the movie takes another fifteen minutes to get to the predictable “a-ha!” moment.
Though there’s the danger of overthinking this, it’s hard not to ask questions like: Why doesn’t Kate look for Alex in the present day once she realizes he’s from the past? Since Alex rented the house to Kate in the first place, how come she doesn’t remember him two years later when they start corresponding? Just thinking of the endless time loops that would exist had Alex not met Kate in 2004, something that only happens because of the letters she wrote to him from the lake house he already rented her.
If you’re able to turn off your logic switch, you may swoon over the Harlequin notion of Kate doing anything to be with Alex, but he’s really doing all the work in this relationship. Maybe that’s romantic from a woman’s point of view, but it’s silly that a doctor and an architect, two careers which require some amount of intelligence, can’t figure out how to use their resources to figure things out sooner. Instead, they make plans to meet at a restaurant the next day, which for him would be in two years and a day. If you’ve been paying attention, you will already know what happens and why.
While “The Lake House” is less confusing than other movies involving time travel, as soon as you start thinking about it, you realize that none of it makes any sense. This sort of intelligent romance was already tried before and better with Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but at least that film had some real emotion and romance despite its unusual premise.
All that aside, Sandra Bullock isn’t that bad in this role, her character being far more likeable than Keanu Reeves, who has the personality and presence of a plank, made more obvious by the dog who steals all their scenes together. His attempts at emoting are laughable. The best moments of the movie are those rare moments when Reeves and Bullock are on screen together, which reminds you that it’s more about the relationship than the hows and whys of its fantasy premise. Still, you never really feel any connection between them even after their first face-to-face meeting.
There’s a lot of wasted talent in the movie, most notably Christopher Plummer as Alex’s father, the architect who originally designed the house. The scenes between Plummer and Reeves are tedious, attempting to add unnecessary sentimentality. Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo of the oddly similar “House of Sand and Fog,” insures that she’s forever typecast as doctor while continually confusing viewers by looking and talking a lot like Kate’s mother.
The saddest part is that David (“Proof”) Auburn’s writing isn’t that bad and the entire film is visually quite stunning thanks to the inventive cinematography of Alar Kivilo, who certainly must have felt some déjà vu having filmed both “Frequency” and “The Glass House.” Of course, the score is done by Rachel Portman, whose done this sort of thing a lot yet she still probably put more effort into composing the music than whomever came up with this plot, thinking that it might work.
The Bottom Line:
Leave your brain at the door and prepare to have your suspension of disbelief put to the ultimate test if you want to get through this movie without fuming at the obvious plotholes in this unwieldy premise. Then again, if you’re an unrepentant romantic, you’re probably used to forgiving the many incongruities of Hollywood romances, and will let reality and logic slide in hope that things will work out between the two characters.