Review: “The Lake House”
Produced by: Roy Lee, Doug Davison; Sonny Mallhi (co-producer); Bruce Berman, Erwin Stoff, Dana Goldberg, Mary McLalen (executive producers)
Written by: David Auburn
Cinematography by: Alar Kivilo
Music by: Rachel Portman, Paul McCartney (songs)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Shohreh Agdashloo, Christopher Plummer, Dylan Walsh, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Willeke van Ammelroy, Lynn Collins
Based on the South Korean film Il Mare (시월애), directed by Lee Hyun-seung
The concept behind The Lake House is a terribly romantic but completely promising one: there’s this mailbox, you see, and in it, there is apparently a portal that transports mail and presumably other such items between the present and two years in the past (or two years in the future, depending on your perspective). It sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone, but here in The Lake House, this mystical and possibly world-changing item is used to send love notes between two time-crossed lovers who are each desiring something more out of their lives and personal relationships.
The story was originally told in the 2000 South Korean film Il Mare (or Siwore in the original Korean), but, as is usual with Hollywood, they saw fit to adapt this potentially lovely story and make it their own. In the process, they cast Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in the lead roles, no doubt to entice the ignorant with promises of the two Speed actors reuniting to create the same spark created in their first pairing several years before. While I honestly won’t know how good the original film is until I see it, this American remake shows that, while the science and logic behind the mechanics of the film’s portrayal of time travel may be questionable, there’s certainly a lot of promise in the concept to back up a truly moving romance story. Sadly,despite all the opportunity in the world to create a lasting tale of transcendent love, The Lake House is instead just another rather dull Hollywood affair that is easily tossed by the wayside.
Bullock plays Kate Forster, a doctor living in 2006, and Reeves plays Alex Wyler, an architect living exactly two years in her past. With audiences presumably already familiar with the set up of the film, we are introduced to the characters in reverse chronological order, as Kate is leaving the titular lake house along with her dog and is moving into an apartment in Chicago. There she settles into a new job at a new hospital. Before she leaves, Kate places a note in the mailbox for the new tenant, welcoming them to their new home and requesting that they kindly forward any of her mail that might slip through.
Rewind to two years in the past, when Alex is moving into the same house with a goal of restoring it. There, he ends up finding Kate’s letter in the mailbox, which apologizes for paw prints that lead to the front door that, of course, do not yet exist in Alex’s time, but eventually do show up through some serendipitous fortune when Kate’s dog’s younger self runs through some paint and creates said trail. Through a series of unusually nonchalant correspondences, Alex and Kate eventually figure out that the mailbox is teleporting their letters through time and, instead of reporting their discovery to the world, they begin to woo each other in an unusually long distance relationship.
What follows feels like an outline for what could have either been solidly entertaining, sweet romantic comedy with a fantasy twist or wonderfully deep and moving love story in a reality touched by fantasy. As it is, The Lake House lacks the fun characters and playfulness inherent in its premise that could have sold the rom-com formula for the billionth time, and it also manages to botch its chance at being a drama, too, thanks to a script that struggles to find anything legitimately profound to say or show about the characters and their relationships to one another. There’s a subplot about Alex father and brother, and while this does set the stage for one of the more emotionally strong moments in the film, its setup ultimately means nothing to the overall story and never seems to really have a lasting impact.
Perhaps this is because of Keanu Reeves’ astonishingly stunted performance? Keanu has always been hailed as one of the worst prominent actors in Hollywood, and The Lake House makes for a good Exhibit A in the case against his atrocities against film as an artform. Nearly every line he speaks is delivered with the awkwardness of a middle schooler reading substandard poetry in front of his class for the first time, and every movement and pose is executed with the expressiveness of a cheap, expressionless mannequin. The aforementioned scene where Keanu is required to cry shows a glimmer of what some casting directors may see at times in Reeves, possibly during his auditions or something, but, ultimately, this is one of the worst performances I’ve seen in any Hollywood film that doesn’t fit into either the action or horror categories.
Fairing better are Reeves’ co-stars, with Christopher Plummer adding a bit of theatricality as Alex’s father, and Shohreh Agdashloo is fine enough as Bullock’s older friend and confidant, though the character she plays is rather generic. Bullock herself is much better than the film deserves. She imbues Kate with genuine kindness but also a resolved melancholy that, had she been partnered with a co-star and script to match her abilities, would have been perfect for this improved but, unfortunately, only hypothetical film.
The way that Kate’s conversations with Alex are portrayed, however, really brings the film down even further, with the characters pretty much having regular conversations throughout detached voiceovers or, even worse, as the characters speak aloud to one another while going about their business as if the other could hear instantaneously. It’s horribly unnatural and ultimately ruins any chances of the relationship achieving any sort of realism, which isn’t helped by the fact that all the twists and turns of the story are pretty much all telegraphed within the first half hour of the film. Luckily, the cinematography is attractive, sometimes even quite pretty to look at, though sometimes camera movements seem to be randomly throwing in supposedly creative flourishes, such as when the camera haphazardly shoots scenes through out of focus foliage in the foreground that are mostly just distracting.
I could talk about the paradoxes and such that arise out of the time travel plot or complain about all the dull and mostly inconsequential side characters introduced (Kate’s mom), but in that hypothetical better film, these could easily be glossed over. However, I feel as though I have drilled into this movie long enough. Had they taken the opportunity to not only utilize its promising concept to its fullest, but also learn from the already existing film before it, regardless of Il Mare‘s quality, The Lake House could have gone down as one of the most effective and beautiful romance films in recent history. Instead, it squanders the opportunity in order to stage an unnecessary Speed reunion within the confines of a half finished concept.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5