The Lake House
How many great screen couples are there in modern cinema? Are there any? Hanks and Ryan worked one time only, but twice was too much. Likewise, Roberts and Gere. I’m not sure it’s because audiences don’t want to see stars with chemistry fall for each other all over again. Rather, there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for reunions. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock don’t, at first glance, seem as if they should be joining the ranks of successful movie partnerships. But they have two (well, one-and-a-half) under their belts, and if they continue to pick offbeat material I’d be quite happy to see a third encounter.
There’s one significant factor mitigating against a liaison viewers can get behind; the mere mention of Reeves’ name is greeted with howls of protest over how he can’t act. It’s an understandable accusation, particularly for anyone who’s seen Dracula. But the secret with Reeves is casting him to his strengths. He isn’t the most comfortable of screen presences. While he is always likeable he carries a slightly aloof air, self-conscious but with a fuddled earnestness. Give him a role such as Neo and it fits like a glove. Or the lead in A Scanner Darkly, where his dazed discordancy reflects that of the audience. During the ’90s, he progressed from Bill and Ted stoner to intermittent action star (or elements of both in Point Break). His first encounter with Bullock was in 1994’s Speed, a monster hit no one really expected. There was an undeniable spark between Reeves’s cop and Bullock’s plucky bus driver, even if the romance angle was subdued.
Bullock’s generally been seen as a romcom girl, a contender to Julia Roberts’ crown, but her outright successes in the field have been limited (While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal).* She has a generous screen presence, be it in dramas or utilising her gifts as a comedienne. It’s this easy-going openness that has led many to dismiss her, but generally, it’s her choice of roles that have let her down.
Reeves is usually a bit to rigid and unresponsive to invite identification in romantic roles. Maybe it’s Bullock’s warmth that enables this one to work. The Lake House uses a similar long-distance courtship idea to Sleepless in Settle, but here there is a science fiction twist. Via a magic mailbox, Reeves’ architect in 2004 is able to communicate with Bullock’s doctor in 2006 (both occupy the titular residence during the different periods). It’s a daffy premise, remaking South Korean picture Il Mare and also owing something to Frequency, but Argentine director Alejandro Agresti approaches the whimsicality with uncomplicated matter-of-factness.
That Bullock and Reeves become aware of, and accept, this device in short order is one of the strengths of an economically-told tale. Agresti uses a variety of techniques to have the characters (actually) meet or exchange conversations outside of mere back-and-forth voiceovers. Most of the time logical objections that spring to mind over the set-up are addressed in some shape or form, and the occasional tricksy flourish (the planting of a tree) is sweet rather than sickly. There’s a twist you can see coming, but it doesn’t hamper the enjoyment of the journey (this is the second time I’ve seen the movie, and it still works for me – is it really seven years old already?)
Unless the Back to the Future-type paradoxes it throws up distract you, that is. This is one occasion where such an element doesn’t hugely bother me; the thrust of the film is its romance, not the logistics of the reality it creates (a movie such as Looper concerned me much more, where it’s premise invites interrogation more overtly). Yes, it falls apart logically (or requires extensive theorising as to how it may actually make sense), but the entire film is built upon a magic wand device. It’s interesting, however, that critics appear to have savaged the integrity of this movie when there are other far worthier targets of paradox peeves.
The supporting cast does good work, although Ebon Moss-Bachrach, as Reeves’ brother, has the slightly pained nervousness of his generation’s Andrew McCarthy. Christopher Plummer is an ubiquitous presence lately, but one you’re nevertheless always glad to see. He and Reeves work surprisingly well together as estranged father and son (although some of the lines reek a bit; “He could build a house. But he couldn’t build a home”). Lynne Collins (of John Carter) plays a would-be squeeze. And there’s an endearing hound that is crucial to the plot.
So… I wouldn’t usually give a movie wantonly flourishing time-travel paradoxes a free pass. Not when it makes zero attempts to justify the (il) logic of its plot devices. But I find myself doing exactly that with The Lake House. It’s an appealing romance, agreeably performed, and as such your heart will likely win out over your brain. Either that or you’ll throw something at the TV in outrage at its stupidity.
*Addendum 08/09/22: Turns out, she should have been seen as a romcom boy.