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Lake House, The (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 16 June 2006
“The Lake House” is a mild, pleasant romantic fantasy about two lovers separated not by distance, but by time. Unusually, they’re not the traditional 100 years apart, but only two years, and are linked by both living in the same attractive if weird house in their own time periods. This is a remake of a 2000 South Korean movie, called “Il Mare” in Western areas, “Siworae” at home in Korea. This American version is directed by Argentinian Alejandro Agresti and written by David Auburn (“Proof”).

Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) moves out of the nearly all-glass house, mounted on stilts in a large, still lake. We see architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) move in—but he’s doing so in the late winter of 2004; Kate moved out in the spring of 2006. He finds a welcoming note from her in the mailbox on the shore, puzzled by some of its references. He writes a response, puts it in the mailbox and raises the red flag. We but not he see the red flag go up by itself.

Soon, the two discover that, as amazing as it seems, they are in different times—though they have the same dog and, of course, live in the same house. There are some amusing, lightly thrilling signs of their living in the same world—he leaves an annotated map for her to use in investigating his favorite buildings in nearby Chicago. As she follows the map, she sees a sign he wrote for her on a brick wall, still there two years later. (Shrewdly, the film offers no explanation for how or why the two are able to send letters—and later, other things—across the gulf of time.)

They are increasingly drawn to each other. Mona (Lynn Collins), an attractive woman who works for his firm, is very interested in Alex, but he regards her only as a friend. Kate is engaged for a time to Morgan (Dylan), a decent sort the film essentially skips over. Alex is close to his brother Henry (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), also an architect, but both brothers are distant from their father Simon (Christopher Plummer). He, too, is an architect; the film places him on about the same level as Frank Lloyd Wright—in fact, in this story, the two were friends. Simon, too, has an intimate connection to The Lake House, and it was also involved in his personal love story.
The movie “The Lake House” is gentle; the fantasy is interesting but not fascinating, which is evidently what director Agresti, making his first English-language movie, was striving for. Early in the film, he tries some annoying stylistic flourishes, mostly involving fancy but distracting camera moves. At one point, the camera seems to become wedged in a revolving door, which calls attention to technique when we should be paying attention to the characters.

However, late in the film, when Kate has worked out a way for Alex to meet her past self, there’s a woozily romantic scene in a garden to the tune of “This Never Happened Before.” Here, the film almost touches on the delirium of early love, but the scene ends awkwardly. After all, Alex is in Kate’s past, so they can’t (yet) get together.

The director also tries a few interesting visual ideas, allowing Reeves, on one side of the Panavision screen, to have a direct conversation (though actually in letters) with Bullock, on the other and two years in the future. This works remarkably well—but remains a gimmick. Screenwriter Auburn tries to thread the idea of the past influencing the future in the story of Alex’s troubled relationship with his father, but this never really intersects with the Alex/Kate story.

Someone also wants to suggest a connection with both “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevsky and “Persuasion” by Jane Austen, but these seem like pseudo-intellectual flourishes more than anything else. Also, scenes from Hitchcock’s “Notorious” turn up twice as it’s watched on TV by different characters. This link is equally tenuous.
But “The Lake House” is an attractive movie with appealing stars. Bullock and Reeves have worked together before, of course, in the major hit “Speed.” In “The Lake House,” they have few scenes actually (instead of virtually) together, but both are likeable performers and make the film very easy to watch.

Technically, it’s a good studio product. The dark-toned, Panavision cinematography by Alar Kivilo avoids bright colors—everything seems to be taking place in winter or early spring—but compositions are handsome, even a little eccentric at times. Nathan Crowley’s production design is largely utilitarian—except for the remarkable house of the title. Although it seems to offer little privacy, it has a great sense of bringing the outdoors that surround it into the house—a tree even grows up through the middle, occasionally exposed to the open air by a louvered roof. But don’t go looking for it—the house was built for the movie, and removed when shooting was done.

The movie lacks tension; the only real conflict is in the inability of the two lovers to meet in a meaningful fashion. But it’s also warm, gentle and consistently interesting. Warners shows some daring in counter-programming this film: it’s coming out at the beginning of summer, when most studios are going with kid-friendly releases (including Warners: “Superman Returns” in a couple of weeks). This low-key but good-hearted romance—which probably ends differently than the South Korean original—is very much a woman’s picture. Maybe women will find it.

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