A film review by Craig J. Koban
THE LAKE HOUSE
2006, PG, 108 mins. Alex Wyler: Keanu Reeves / Kate Forster: Sandra Bullock / Kate's friend: Shoreh Aghdashloo
/ Louis Wyler: Christopher Plummer / Henry Wyler: Ebon Moss-Bachrach Directed by
Alejandro Agresti / Written by David Auburn
2006, PG, 108 mins.
Alex Wyler: Keanu Reeves / Kate Forster: Sandra Bullock / Kate's friend: Shoreh Aghdashloo / Louis Wyler: Christopher Plummer / Henry Wyler: Ebon Moss-Bachrach
Directed by Alejandro Agresti / Written by David Auburn
THE LAKE HOUSE is pure, unrefined, and ridiculous dribble. It’s not that it is offensively bad in terms of its actual content. The film does have modest, noteworthy merits (a fairly decent cast, some humble chemistry between the two leads, and a somewhat unique and daring premise). However, the film makes a fatalistic mistake of telegraphing a big reveal and a would-be ingenious plot twist with such stunning predictability that I found myself pounding my head against my theatre chair’s arm rest in a state of stupefied disbelief. I am not sure what was worse - the fact that you can see - with cataclysmically certainty - where the story was heading or the fact that my ability to see where the story was going was based on the fact that one particular character in the film is a complete idiot.
Now, I am going to try awfully hard to bite my tongue with this review and attempt to not spoil anything crucial here, folks. I guess that, creatively, it would be much more of a challenge to reveal my sheer disappointment for THE LAKE HOUSE without telling you what exactly made me despise it. However, let me be the first to very specifically point out that I have nothing against a good romantic melodrama if its heart and soul remain pure to its instincts. Furthermore, I also love the fantasy genre, and THE LAKE HOUSE holds true to this genre in at least one subtle way. The film is – at face value – a remarkably absurd, but intriguing, hybrid of a romance and a time travel picture. It had incredible potential, to say the least. At times, the film was approaching Charlie Kauffman territory for weirdness.
Time Travel films are tricky. The main problem with them is that you can go absolutely bonkers trying to dissect them. There are some that use time travel as almost secondary elements to the overall thrust of the film (The TERMINATOR films had logical loopholes the size of craters, but were forgivable based on the fact that they were purely action escapist films). The BACK TO THE FUTURE films had fun and wisely decided to tackle the notion of time paradoxes in bizarrely funny ways. More recent films, like the remarkably absorbing PRIMER, created a real sensation of mystery and psychological horror with the use and misuse of time travel. Now comes THE LAKE HOUSE, which just may be the first romantic drama since SOMEWHERE IN TIME to fuse the genre with time travel conceits.
Okay, before I get lambasted, I must say that I do understand – I really, really do – that you kind of have to just go with the underlining premise of THE LAKE HOUSE. Yes, looking hard at the time travel paradoxes (which are major and obvious) in the film can take away from your overall enjoyment of it. Sure. Fine. I accept that. In a way, the fact that the screenplay does not bog its viewers down with any explanation whatsoever regarding its time travel phenomenon is kind of refreshing (it allows the script to focus more on characters and story). Okay, time travel happens and is a reality in this film. Sure. Fine. I accept the reality of the film and accept the notion that two of its characters use time travel to communicate with one another.
But, but, BUT…that’s not what is disastrously wrong with the film. THE LAKE HOUSE is not utterly negligible because of its ludicrous and inanely improbably story. I am more than willing to suspend my complete disbelief at even the most warped and silly of narratives. Very simply put, the film is insultingly dumb with the actions of the Sandra Bullock character, and she seems to occupy a cinematic illness that critic Roger Ebert lovingly calls “The Idiot Plot Syndrome.”
I will explain to the uninitiated.
The Idiot Plot Syndrome refers to any film where the actions of one or more of the characters are explainable only because they are complete and absolute morons, or idiots. As pointed out, there is a plot reveal in the film’s third act that is so alarmingly preordained that how anyone that was not an idiot could not see it coming is beyond me. Yet, at the heart of this predictable plot twist is the complete and astronomical lack of short and long-term memory and overall common sense that Bullock’s character possesses. When all of the film’s pieces are put together and you realize how they all fit, you don’t want to weep from the sad and sentimental nature of it, you want to grab Bullock and ask her, “Were you absolutely blind, for Pete’s sake!?”
THE LAKE HOUSE, as a result, made me feel dumb, and it’s a monumentally dumb film for inspiring those feelings within me. The film is made all the more shockingly inept by the fact that it was written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn (based on the 2000 South Korean film, IL MARE). How much of the source film has been translated to this remake is unknown by me (I have not see IL MARE), but if it had the phony, cop out, and insultingly braindead plot twist that THE LAKE HOUSE does, then I would worry about the collective wisdom of the film’s creators in thinking that it was a good idea to remake it into a big budget film.
THE LAKE HOUSE concerns the very, very unlikely love affair between two lonely souls. They are Alex (the not-so-surprisingly stoic and reliably wooden Keanu Reeves) and Kate (the frequently likeable and adorable Sandra Bullock). They have the single oddest “meet cute” in film history, I will give them that. Both of them live in a luxurious and extravagant glass lake house that is on the shore of Lake Michigan. However, there is one extraordinary stretch. He lives in the house in 2004 and she occupies it in 2006. They meet one another when they realize – holy Hanna – that they can communicate with each other through time via the mailbox! For reasons never explained, the mailbox is a time portal to the past and present. When she leaves him a letter in the box in 2006, he instantaneously gets it in 2004. And I thought that UPS was expeditious with getting one's mail delivered on time.
The amazing thing about THE LAKE HOUSE is that neither character seems to think that their ability to communicate with one another is, in any way, the least bit crazy. They never seek psychiatric help, never feel that they are delusional, and - ever more insipidly - when they tell other people earnestly about their secret portal, none of their sensible friends want to check them into the loony bin. All in all, the two have a fairly decent, well rounded, and budding relationship that any man and woman would have when separated by two years in time. This obviously, brings up one of the film’s problems (that it does address) – how can they be an item when separated by time?
She is a successful doctor in 2006. He is a well-off and fledging architect in 2004. Both are lonely and looking for love. They seem destined to be perfect for one another. The two begin to forge a loving relationship through their temporal pen pall antics. They bond through all of their respective letters. At times, she asks him to partake in some odd requests (like locating a book that she has lost in 2004) and he gives her a map of his favourite buildings in Chicago for her to see. However, the two are trapped in different times. Alex realizes that his patience is getting the better of him so he tries (at least to his credit) to connect with Kate’s 2004 self. Kate, meanwhile, tries to tell Alex to “wait” for her in 2006.
Huh? What a tick…what’s wrong with this picture? Oh yeah, the fact that there does not seem to be the invention of e-mail, the Internet, or Google or Yahoo search engines in the film’s universe. Seriously, why the hell does Kate not look up Alex via email or try to find out more about his 2006 self online? Here’s an idea: Why does she not tell his 2004 self to keep the same email address for the next two years so that – presto – she can email him in 2006 and meet up with him right away? Or, why not try something a bit more archaic, like look him up in the phone book and call him!? Okay, so what if he's he’s unlisted? No problem. She could tell his 2004 self to keep his number listed so that she can call him in 2006. So, why oh why does Kate not look him up, try to e-mail him, try to find out about him online, or even try to call him up in 2006? Oh, right, because she is a victim of The Idiot Plot. Time travel as a narrative device in the film is tolerable, but the lapses of intelligence with its characters are not. I mean, she does not even have the smarts to mail him a photo of herself!
Even worse is the film’s denouement. Again – without giving anything away – the film’s twist is earth shattering in its inconsistency. It has been established already that Kate is an idiot as per The Idiot Plot, but – aaarggh – her incapability of remembering one key person at one highly stressful time (hint: the person she medically attends to at one point) is one of the more head-scratching moments in any film I’ve seen for a long time. The film, as a direct result of this scene, makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a mess. It disastrously ruins the whole intriguing aspect of the film. THE LAKE HOUSE essentially betrays itself. Yeah, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are certainly good and cute together (this is their first film together since 1994’s SPEED), but all of their charm and affability cannot save THE LAKE HOUSE from being incalculably maddening and nonsensical. Oh vey.
There is nothing wrong with a film that tries to be daring and creative with its story. Certainly, THE LAKE HOUSE is no exception, as it tries to tell a story of two lovers that communicate to each other via a magical, time traveling mailbox. To be fair, THE LAKE HOUSE deserves some points for being a bit bold and experimental. Also, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are a great on-screen couple. However, the film is one of 2006’s most befuddling experiences not from a realism standpoint, but from a common sense and motivational one. No film of the last year has been riddled with so many glaring holes, a genuine disdain for sound reasoning, and has treated one of its characters with such a large level of intellectual bankruptcy. The resolution of the film, which is grounded in a plot twist, tries to be shocking and touching, but instead invites our scornful incredulity. That’s all a shame; because films with a radical – if not preposterous – premise deserve a much better treatment than THE LAKE HOUSE delivers. There is no need to check your brain at the door for this film. It unfortunately already assumes that you have none in your head, along with one of its main characters.