Friday, June 16, 2006

The Lake House - Movie Review

The Lake House 2006

Damn that Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock! We want to hate them, but we just can’t. Lord knows we’ve tried. And Lord knows they’ve given us ample reasons to hate them. But with their latest collaboration on the romantic / fantasy remake, “The Lake House” they once again prove that while the terms Stars and Acting might not always go hand in hand – the power of a Star (or two) to sell a piece of piffle is not to be underestimated.

The Lake House” is based on a Korean film of five years ago called “Il Mare”. A Korean film with an Italian name? Armageddon must indeed be approaching kids. Anywho, both films concern the tale of a young (well, youngish) man who moves into his new dwelling and encounters a note from the previous tenant asking for her mail to be forwarded. Pushy, but not unheard of. So where’s the fantasy element? Well it turns out that the young (youngish) lady seems to think that she vacated the lake house in 2006, while the young man seems to think he moved into it in 2004. Hence, the conundrum. And this being the movies, and these being Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, they begin a correspondence that transcends time, begins to ensnare their hearts and minds and somehow, miraculously completely charms the pants off of us. Well, to a point.

The film is directed by Argentinean Alejandro Agresti. (An Argentinean directing a remake of a Korean movie with an Italian name? Why do we keep smelling the ghost of Neville Chamberlain?) Agresti is relatively unknown in this country, but he does have some experience with the fantastical and romantical elements at play here. His “Un Mundo menos peor” and more recent “Valentín” both had touches of the surreal floating around the very real storylines. It is this combination of grounding a film in the basics of good storytelling and then entrusting your two leads to actors whose charms are tailor made for their roles to bring it home.

Keanu Reeves, our onetime future husband (Maybe in five years time, when he’s ten years younger?) has been acting for over twenty years, and seldom garners much praise for it.

Despite being featured in some very popular fare over the years: “Parenthood”, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “Speed”, “The Matrix Trilogy” and “Something’s Gotta Give”. His critical successes have included more interesting work: “River’s Edge”, “Dangerous Liaisons”, “My Own Private Idaho”, “A Walk in the Clouds”, “The Devil’s Advocate”, “The Gift” and “Thumbsucker”. We’d still let him take us out in the canoe for a spin or two, but he is starting to show his age around the cheekbones. And it is actually a most welcome change. For in the clinch, when his character must steer the film thru the potentially hazardous terrain of fantastical / romantical he is indeed able to hit home the comic bits, the wistful longing glances and indeed the tragic circumstances that inevitably befall a “love that transcends time”.

Sandra Bullock’s career is filled with several successes and not a one of them has required her to act more than slightly befuddled or bemused. But you know what? She’s pretty damned good at doing just that. The key we think to this films quirky charms is in our caring for the two leads, who are both portraying semi-successful professionals who continually long for something more interesting. The joy is that they are not necessarily longing for romance. No, no kids. While we understand that the need to love and be loved may be the most basic human need, it makes for damn dull filmmaking.

Sandra as Kate Foster, a young intern working thru long hours and still bruised from a recently failed romance doesn’t strike us as a bored, selfish twat lounging around the coffee house, twirling her hair and daydreaming of Mr. Right to save her. Her male counterpart, Alex Wyler is an architect who works as a condo developer. He may be single but he is unwilling to fall prey to his perky and sassy coworker’s charms just to stave off any basic physical needs. He dreams of accomplishing more, in particular to earn back the lost respect of his famous father, an architect who designed the very Lake House in question.

The supporting cast in thankfully filled with talent. Christopher Plummer, perhaps the most underrated actor in his drunken generation brings his old toad crust and verve and his polished thespian capability to the patriarch role.

Shohreh Agdashloo defies the normal Carrie Fisher / Rosie O’DonnellBest Friend” casting couch syndrome which plagues lesser romantic fare and essays the role of Kate’s medical mentor. Her ability to cut through any tripe is a welcome change of pace.

But the film belongs to Keanu and Sandra, whose previous runaway hit (literally) already established their ability to play nicely off each others talents. And most importantly, as with all films that involve romance there exists a pet dog. For once we enjoyed this creaky old standby for the filmmakers knack of involving the canine in an odd couple of plot points which actually add to the magic and doesn’t detract with stupid pet tricks or overly long shots of the dog whining pitifully.

What we enjoyed most about “The Lake House”, besides the chemistry of the two leads was the curious and we grant you, sometimes confusing manipulation of the time travel involved. This is not a screenplay that can stand the test of reason when it comes to the laws of the universe. You will be left with the basic question: “That scene was impossible, even given the particulars of the fantasy”. True. And we would not defend the ending for a spare second. But if the movies and our vast love for them have taught us one thing, it is that that they are the perfect place to spend a couple of hours in the dark lost in dreams and fantasy.

The conversations between the two main characters that forms the backbone of the romance begins with the simple technique of narrating the letters exchanged between them. And somewhere along the line turns into a quaint form of “mind meld” that allows them to converse across the years. We don’t believe for a second it is meant to be realistic, rather a short hand directorial technique that demonstrates just how deeply these two people are connecting to each other when nothing else in the world seems as important to them.

But by the end of the film, we feel we have not only come to know these characters but to care for their state of bliss. And isn't that ultimately what a good movie romance should be? Do yourselves a favor and don’t question who is behind the curtain this time. You’ll enjoy it more. And there is plenty to enjoy here. Bless you all!

Directed by Alejandro Agresti
Written by David Auburn
Based on the film “Il Mare / Siworae” by Eun-Jeong Kim & Ji-na Yeo

Keanu Reeves as Alex Wyler
Sandra Bullock as Kate Forster
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Anna Klyczynski
Christopher Plummer as Simon Wyler
Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Henry Wyler
Willeke van Ammelrooy as Kate’s Mother
Dylan Walsh as Morgan

Cinematography by Alar Kivilo
Film Editing by Alejandro Brodersohn & Lynzee Klingman
Original Music by Rachel Portman
Production Design by Nathan Crowley
Art Direction by Kevin Kavanaugh & Shane Valentino
Set Decoration by Meg Everist
Costume Design by Deena Appel


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