Lake House, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Although this may amount to oversimplification, Alejandro Agresti's The Lake House is essentially a romance between two people connected by a time-traveling mailbox. As premises go, this has the virtue of uniqueness - Hollywood doesn't churn out time-traveling mailbox movies on a regular basis. Unfortunately, trying doesn't necessarily mean succeeding and, even for those who buy into the basic ideas, there are credibility gaps that The Lake House cannot surmount. And for those who attempt to apply logic to this movie, everything will come crashing down like a poorly balanced house of cards.

The Lake House is based on the 2000 South Korean film Il Mare, which I have not seen. The final scene, however, is lifted not from the original but from the Hollywood shelf of cheap cop-outs. How many foreign films, when "translated" into English, find their endings mangled or made over in order to pander to "mainstream" sensibilities? (Ironically, the ending of Il Mare was criticized in some circles for being too upbeat, although apparently not upbeat enough for Warner Brothers, which remove all vestiges of ambiguity.)

The Lake House is about the unlikely love affair between two lonely people: Alex (Keanu Reeves) and Kate (Sandra Bullock). Both live in an extravagant, glass walled house on the shore of Lake Michigan - he in 2004 and she in 2006. They "meet" and begin exchanging correspondence via the house's mailbox. The fact that their letters are traveling through time doesn't seem to bother them. Eventually, seeking to meet his soulmate, Alex seeks out Kate's 2004 counterpart. For her part, Kate waits patiently for Alex to "catch up" to her.

In for a penny, in for a pound, they say. If you choose to see The Lake House, you have to accept it as a fairy tale, time travel paradoxes and all. Don't think too hard - you'll spoil the mood. The romance, which is delicately developed as these two people reach out across the years to each other, is effective, but there's almost too much baggage. Two things in particular bothered me about this film, and neither had to do with its preposterous premise. First, despite all their correspondence, these two never send pictures. As a veteran of a long distance relationship, I can attest that pictures are the lifeblood of such interaction. Secondly, Kate never does an Internet search for her would-be love. Such lapses by the screenplay are unforgivable.

The Lake House represents the reunion of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, who were last seen discussing the potential future of a relationship that starts under tense circumstances. The spark that ignited between them in Speed still burns - they make an appealing couple. Of course, since The Lake House is rated PG, their chemistry is more "cute" than "sexy." Christopher Plummer and Shoreh Aghdashloo have supporting roles (he as Alex's famous architect father; she as Kate's boss at a Chicago hospital). Really, though, their roles are peripheral. The Lake House lives and dies based on Reeves and Bullock. By keeping the human element of the film more important than the fantastical one, they ground The Lake House and allow us to overlook many of its contrivances.

I am conflicted about this film. I like the fact that it takes chances. I appreciate that it's trying to do a supernatural love story without falling into the schmaltz of Ghost. Yet I recognize that the screenplay is like Swiss cheese - riddled with holes, some of which are bigger and more distracting than others. The Lake House also has the odd distinction of raising metaphysical questions without boasting an overly intelligent storyline. Despite the conventional ending, which has a tacky, tacked-on feel, the movie is designed for those who are more adventurous when it comes to romance. It will be interesting to see if it finds an audience.

Lake House, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2006-06-16
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1