Kate (Sandra Bullock) is a lonesome doctor giving up her lake house for a hectic downtown Chicago hospital job. Alex (Keanu Reeves) is a burnt-out architect moving into the same house to wrestle with his past. Finding a peculiar instructional letter from Kate in the house, Alex sends a reply only to discover their distance isn’t in miles but years. Using the lake house mailbox as their way to connect through two years of separation, Alex (in 2004) and Kate (in 2006) write each other daily, expressing romantic aspirations and remembering their tragedies, hopeful one day to meet, but unsure how to orchestrate such a moment.
In a summer of impossible missions, supermen, and 9/11 dramatizations (August’s “World Trade Center”), “The Lake House” has the audacity to try and achieve a tranquil tone, free of bombast or visual clutter. Released in June, right before the commencement of a second round of sloppy summer entertainment, you could consider “Lake House” a blissful sorbet before the onslaught of cinematic havoc starts up again.
A remake of the 2000 Korean film “Il Mare,” Hollywood has taken a modest, gentle import and bestowed two huge stars upon it to fatten up the profits. Interestingly though, “Lake House” marks the reunion of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, who last starred together in the crown jewel of 90s action films, the watertight bomb-on-a-bus thriller, “Speed.”
Reeves and Bullock are the driving force behind the dreamy allure of “Lake House.” The actors share a sincere intimacy that fits the material like a warm comforter, making the picture feel tailor made for the two of them. The duo sell the fanciful ambition of the story without ever winking or pushing, and the film allows the actors to play against the harsh roles they’ve been selecting for years now. It’s a bolt of lightning to see Bullock’s volume turned down for once, revealing the disarming talent that was lost long ago in her fight to be accepted as a comedy queen. Both actors are marvelous here as lovers struggling with a peculiar loophole in fate.
Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti, making his English language debut, approaches “Lake House” with the intent of setting a soft mood that helps in swallowing the fantasy angle to this story. It’s remarkable that I never once questioned the plot holes or recoiled at the sometimes broad, theatrical acting. Agresti’s direction casts a golden glow on the plot, paced deliberately like a Norah Jones B-side, and accomplished with almost retro usage of long takes, zooms, and master shots. “Lake House” is hazy, low-tech romantic filmmaking, and its no shove policy is exactly why it works so well. Agresti is not pushing you to fall in love with this movie; he just wants you to believe in it.
The screenplay by David Auburn (“Proof”) is sublime in the ways it interconnects the characters blocked by two years of distance (at times it feels like less zany “Back to the Future” sequel), and gives them a life outside of their romantic sulk. “Lake House” includes parental figures for both Kate and Alex, inserted here to convey the depth of their need for this magical connection to be real; however, I’ve little doubt that Christopher Plummer’s expectedly showboat performance as Alex’s architect snob father will be a slam-on-the-brakes character for many audience members. It’s the one element that gets away from the filmmakers and circles senseless indulgence. For one scene, it’s a supreme pain, but it quickly subsides and “Lake House” gets back on track.
So leisurely and lovely is “Lake House,” it feels a shame it has to end; that there must be an earthbound conclusion to it all, tied up in a neat bow. Floating in the warm waters of forbidden love, near misses, and heartache for 95 gentle minutes, it must come to a close, and mercifully Agresti sustains his film’s tone with a climax that won’t blow minds, but, at the same time, doesn’t knock down this cinematic house of cards.Rating: A-