I want to know where you can buy a mailbox like the one in The Lake House. Surely they don’t exist, but how nice it would be if they did. Put a letter in it and someone from another time gets it. Just think of the possibilities. This particular mailbox sits in front of a beautiful glass lakeside house, built on stilts and possessing a million dollar view. The home is owned, at different times, by a doctor named Kate (Sandra Bullock) and an architect named Alex (Keanu Reeves). He lives in 2004; she lives in 2006. Their correspondence begins after she moves out and leaves a note for the new tenant. He gets the note, reads it, and, perplexed by some of her statements, writes back. How exactly someone can write a note in the present day and have it read by someone from two years ago is left unexplained, but explanations would only get in the way of the fun.
Both of the main characters are lonely souls. Alex deals with rejection from his father (Christopher Plummer), the famous architect who built the lake house. The old man is a disapproving, condescending sort who thinks that no one is as brilliant as he. Kate, meanwhile, has had a long on-again/off-again relationship with a lawyer (Dylan Walsh) that has never quite fulfilled her. At times, she thinks that being with him is better than being alone. Other times, she thinks she’s compromising by being with someone for whom her affections are not genuine. When an accident victim dies in her arms, she retreats to her former home, and that’s when the correspondence with Alex begins.
My suspicion is that if I told you too much about how they begin communicating, part of the film’s charm would be lost. All you need to know is that when one of them puts a letter in the box, the other receives it. There’s something about the time warp that intrigues both of them, but they also start to form a strange kind of connection. Alex has an unusual idea: he maps out a walking tour of Chicago for Kate to take in 2006, while he takes the exact same trip on the same day in 2004. The idea works, as both of them feel like they’re together although they technically are not. If it is possible to fall in love with someone you’ve never met who lives in another time, then that is exactly what happens. But how to meet, especially when the 2004 version of Kate doesn’t know about the mailbox and would therefore be creeped out by any advance Alex were to make?
The neat thing about The Lake House is that it is relatively ingenious with its premise. The movie creates a sense that fate is somehow intervening in the characters’ lives. Midway through, we discover that Alex and Kate have met before. Or did they? It’s entirely possible that knowledge of the time warp is what caused them to meet. Alex does something that affects Kate in the future, but if they hadn’t met through the lake house, would that event still have taken place? To some degree, time travel movies (for lack of a better term) always make your head spin. You either get a rush from it – as I do – or your brain starts overanalyzing the impossibilities and you lose interest. Perhaps a movie like this is a metaphor for love: it’s tough to quantify and you can’t exactly define it, but when it works, it makes you offer a complete surrender.
I liked how screenwriter David Auburn (adapting a South Korean film called Il Mare) devises a way for the characters to interact. We often hear their voices on the soundtrack, talking as if having a conversation in the same room. If the film played by its own rules, they’d have to be standing in front of that mailbox, furiously scribbling letters to one another. Not very cinematic (at least not for long). The idea of having them converse naturally helps us feel the connection between them more strongly.
Finding two actors who have romantic chemistry together is tough; finding two actors who can have that chemistry despite limited screen time together is almost impossible. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had it in Sleepless in Seattle. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock have it here. Because they demonstrated such good chemistry in 1994’s Speed, the actors are able to bring some good baggage to the project. We totally believe that they could be in love in the movies because they successfully have been before. Reeves and Bullock also bring the right balance of emotions to their respective roles. They give The Lake House its humor, its drama, and its undeniable romantic spirit.
The only real hitch is a plot twist that is set up early in the film. It was immediately obvious to me what was going on, and I’m willing to bet it will be obvious to 99% of other moviegoers as well. Given that we figure this out so early, there are only two possible options for the ending. Granted, there’s some tension in waiting to see which ending the story will take, but I nevertheless felt like I was couple steps ahead of the movie. Oddly, the mystery could have been kept if a single shot had been eliminated.
This is not exactly a criticism, though. The Lake House is so beautifully written, directed, and acted that it easily overcomes that slight misstep. What counts is that the movie is an entertaining and ultimately moving look at the miracle of finding the one you love.
( out of four)
The Lake House is rated PG for some language and a disturbing image. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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