In Alejandro Agresti’s romantic fantasy The Lake House, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves play two pen pals (a.k.a. platonic lovers) separated not by physical or emotional space, but by an even more gigantic obstacle: time. Two years to be exact. You can put the blame for this cosmic mess on the U.S. postal service or on the mutt that magically shows up at the lake house in both the past and the future, but there’s a good reason for all this time warping. Without it, our two lovebirds would never have heard of each other. Obviously, the film’s main question is, Will the lovers ever meet? No prizes for those who guess right.
“A stubborn illusion” is how Einstein once described the distinction between past, present, and future. He might as well have been talking about the depiction of human relationships in commercial movies such as The Lake House. Apart from the basic plot gimmick – and a clever (if hardly unexpected) revelation near the end – The Lake House offers little more than two box office names posing for the camera while uttering platitudes about love, family, and friendship.
Based on Hyun-seung Lee’s slick, MTV-ish Siworae / Il Mare (2000), this Hollywoodized remake is more conventional and less visually striking than the original. Yet director Alejandro Agresti’s subdued approach has actually made the absurd story a tad more appealing and heartfelt than the glitzier Korean film. If Il Mare has the feel of a cosmic soap commercial, The Lake House has the feel of a cosmic soap opera.
Additionally, Agresti (with the assistance of editors Alejandro Brodersohn and Lynzee Klingman) keeps the story moving at a steady pace, while screenwriter David Auburn has fleshed out several supporting characters that are brought to life by high-caliber actors such as Dylan Walsh, Willeke van Ammelrooy (the star of the 1995 foreign-language Oscar winner Antonia’s Line), and Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (for House of Sand and Fog). In the final count, however, all of the film’s humans are outacted by a chess-playing dog in dire need of a bath.
Those who enjoy a mix of workmanlike filmmaking and manufactured romances will not be disappointed with The Lake House. On the other hand, those who believe that romantic movies should offer more than solid production values, plot gimmicks, star power, and pop ballads should probably look for entertainment elsewhere.
When Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) leaves her house by the lake to move to Chicago, she posts a letter to the future tenant asking that her mail be forwarded to her new address.
When she receives a written response from new tenant Alex Burnham (Keanu Reeves), an architect who makes a living as a construction worker, Kate learns that no one has lived in the lake house in years. She also finds it strange that Alex’s letter is dated 2004 – two years earlier than the present.
Eventually, Kate and Alex come to the realization that they are living two years apart. This minor glitch in the patchwork of time doesn’t faze them nearly as much as their own personal dramas: Kate is alone, having ended an unsatisfying relationship with a businessman named Morgan (Dylan Walsh), while Alex is upset because he and his detached father (Christopher Plummer), a renowned architect who had built the lake house, don’t get along.
As their penpal-manship develops into a platonic romance, Kate and Alex set up a 2006 meeting at a fancy Chicago restaurant. Kate waits and waits, but Alex doesn’t show up. What could have happened?
The Lake House (2006). Director: Alejandro Agresti. Screenplay: David Auburn, from the motion picture Siworae / Il Mare, written by Eun-Jeong Kim and Ji-na Yeo. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Christopher Plummer, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Dylan Walsh.
A couple of key differences between Siworae / Il Mare and The Lake House:
- In Siworae, the car accident that kills the hero takes place in the “past” and near the end of the film. The heroine witnesses the accident, but feels nothing because the hero means nothing to her at the time (before they began corresponding). In the remake, the accident takes place in the “present” and near the beginning of the film. The difference is that we don’t see the man who has been killed. We only learn later that he had died in the heroine’s arms.
- In Siworae, hero and heroine finally meet in the “past.” The hero – who doesn’t die because the heroine has changed the course of history – arrives at the Lake House, letters in hand, to tell the new tenant, the heroine, a “magical” story. In the remake, they meet in the “future” (2008 to be exact), shortly after the heroine has prevented his death from taking place in 2006. Get it?
A couple of key similarities between Siworae / Il Mare and The Lake House:
- Neither hero nor heroine comes up with the following brilliant idea: “You’re two years ahead of me. Look me up in the phone book and give me a call. Oh, you can’t find me because I’m dead? Well, in that case try my brother. He’ll be able to tell you which cemetery to visit…”