The new movie, “The Lake House,” which is inspired by the South Korean sci-fi romance “Siworae,” reunites “Speed” co-stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in considerably more mellow and mature roles.
By Jane Coulter
She’s Dr. Kate Forster and he’s architect Alex Wyler. In order to work at a Chicago hospital, Kate moves out of the sublime lake house designed by Alex’s father, a famous architect disappointed by his son’s dedication to artless condo development. It is 2006 and Kate leaves her forwarding address in a warm letter destined, she assumes, for the future occupant. Fate determines a different destination: in 2004, when Alex returns to the family home built by his father and reads the letter.
Once their trans-temporal correspondence begins, Alex and Kate discover they also share a chess-playing dog named Jack as well as a liking for isolation. The latter only reinforces their desire for time-defying fantasies rather than a face-to-face rendezvous. “The time thing? It’s just a detail,” Kate’s mother comments when she reads some of her daughter’s letters. For most of the movie, this proves true.
The old-fashioned, chaste courtship of writing love letters evokes the loneliness of successful 30-something singles drifting through the 21st century—when Alex asks Kate what has changed since 2004, she unaffectedly remarks “nothing.” While Kate pushes away a former love interest and refuses to form friendships with new colleagues, Alex struggles to maintain a relationship with his egomaniacial Master Builder father, adroitly portrayed by Christopher Plummer.
The palpable chemistry between the stars is well used in a date designed by Alex to show Kate Chicago’s architectural gems. Still, sometimes the time-space stunts — the mailbox flag merrily chopping up and down as Alex and Kate frantically scribble to each other when they acknowledge the divergent years on their stationary or Jack tracking paw-prints on Alex’s walkway after he reads about them in Kate’s initial letter— bring more annoyance than laughter.
Romance often demands suspension of disbelief to the point of testing an audience’s patience as well as the concept of cinema as escapism. The list of recent fantasy love stories is long: the love between a streetwalker and corporate playboy in “Pretty Woman,” the inexorable quest for a young love in “A Very Long Engagement,” the romance beyond the grave in “Ghost” and the ignorance of a spouse’s job as a professional killer in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Yet in the last twenty minutes of “The Lake House,” the time warp catches up with the script, tipping the audience off-balance.
Bullock and Reeves manage to conjure up some charm, but too often the film verges on melodrama — a conversation made up of letters between wanna-be lovers, consoling and cajoling each other across space, eventually becomes exhausting. Still, this meeting of the minds over the two years— or 108 minutes— is compelling and charismatic enough to sustain a final lakeside scene that earns its sugary sentiment.