I can probably count on one hand the number of romantic movies I really like. Naturally, number one is probably Casablanca, but probably the most recent one I truly enjoyed was Serendipity. Funny that I should mention Serendipity in the context of a review of The Lake House because both movies are about couples that have to navigate time to find the right circumstances in which to be together. Why this is exactly, we never know.
In The Lake House, we meet dedicated doctor Kate, who is moving out of a beautiful glass house that sits on the lake to pursue her career at a Chicago hospital. Then we see architect Alex move into the same house, snow’s on the ground so we assume that some time has passed since the Kate left. She left a letter of welcome to the new owner in the mailbox which is received by Alex, but immediately something is wrong because Kate’s letter makes reference to things that have yet to happen to house, like a box in the attic or the paw prints on the front walk.
Eventually, the couple realizes that they are communing through time; Kate lives two years ahead of Alex. (Of course if you’ve seen the trailers and the commercials this plot point was already spoiled.) The two strike up an unlikely romance corresponding to each other through the magical time traveling mail box. They even go on time displaced dates like a walking tour of Chicago’s finest architecture with Kate taking the walk exactly two years later than Alex.
Eventually the twosome decide that they must meet, and Alex makes arrangements exactly two years and a day later to meet Kate at Chicago’s fanciest restaurant. But as the trailer also spoils, Alex doesn’t show. What happened? Why? And will these two ever get together?
I won’t spoil the ending except to say that Kate and Alex create a temporal paradox, I’ve read enough about quantum physics to know what that is. This is an interesting concept, but there are far too many plot holes to pratfalls in the script to suspend disbelief enough. Like why wouldn’t Kate try and Google Alex and find out what happened to him or maybe do something unselfish like warn him about the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina; they clearly didn’t care about other implications to the space-time continuum.
Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves ably prove that they still have their Speed chemistry even though the plot requires them to be separated through much of the movie. Director Alejandro Agresti tries to resolve this by making their letters to each other seem more conversational, which would be fine if they were text messaging with magic cell phones as opposed to good, old fashioned letter writing. A friend of mine questioned this by asking, “Are they writing like two sentences to each other?” When you start questioning the logistics of the movie, it’s kind of problematic for the audience.
Now, a word about Keanu. Say what you want about him: monotone, bland, comatose, I still think he is a deceptively decent actor; he’s just so natural it blows your mind. Keanu is subtle, but he definitely creates a character and a performance. He plays it straight, but don’t confuse flourish with talent. Does he play the same confused persona movie after movie? I don’t think so. Does he just play a certain type really, really well? I think that’s fair, and I defy anyone to admit that they’ve never met anyone like a Keanu character.
There are just so many incredible leaps in logic to really get comfortable with this film; like the fact that Alex finds a dog that later comes into Kate’s possession. The two exchange this fact and Alex never stops to think, “Hey, how did the future girl end up with my dog?” It’s also revealed at one point that Alex and Kate met at Kate’s birthday party at some point in the intervening two years, they even dance and kiss, but they don’t seem to put two and two together. I think Gob Bluth put it best when he said, “Come ON!”
And all this is to say nothing of the hokey dialogue and the musical selections right out of the Dawson’s Creek song book. There comes a point in these romantic movies where you either get hooked or you don’t. You buy the contrivances and follow along or you sit there watching something you’re marking like a school paper, checking all the mistakes with a red pen.
I like the chemistry between Bullock and Reeves, I liked the concept, I liked the supporting characters and I even liked some of the places the story went to. But then you see something like a two-year old message from Alex spray painted on a wall as Kate goes past on her walking tour and you sit there stunned thinking, “no one painted over that?”
I’m sure that The Lake House is good enough to make the truly romantic weepy enough to be satisfying, but it didn’t work for me. For when you start contemplating the literal physics behind a romantic drama, you know you are lost as an audience member.