The Lake House (2006)

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Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock were cute together in Speed. Sure, it was all about the action and they bonded more over the stress of the situation more than anything else. But what if we made a whole movie about just the two of them? 12 years later we get just that. But with over a decade since the two have worked together do they still have that chemistry? Actually, the gap in time is fitting given the nature of The Lake House.

This is because the two are separated not by a breakup or geographical distance, but by time. Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) works as an independent architect despite his father’s successful empire in 2004 while Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) is a doctor fresh out of grad school in 2006. The two both share one thing in common: they both lived in the same lake house. It’s by chance, or fate, the two become aware of each other when a note Kate leaves in the mailbox in 2006 somehow makes it back to 2004. Alex reads the note, places a response in the mailbox and soon the two begin a strange relationship.

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Therefore, since the two are kept apart by time the romance becomes about waiting and separation. There have been romances about lonely people before but this is a film almost entirely sustained by the two lovers themselves being alone. There are a number of scenes where it is just Bullock or Reeves and no one else. Early on the film shows a scene from Notorious, a classic Hitchock, which sets up this idea of separation and that it’s worth waiting. There’s something far more profound about this kind of romance than the fluffy, cheesy romances that constitute so much of the film industry. In the meantime, the two have their own issues to work out. Alex has to come to terms with his father and Kate must work out the emotional turmoil of her career as a doctor as well as her tendency to isolate herself.

The mailbox that connects them has issues of its own. It’s asking for a level of suspension of disbelief that usually isn’t expected in these films. You’re getting into sci-fi territory with a time traveling mailbox. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that there’s no explanation about how this mailbox can bridge the two year gap in time. Likewise, the logic of time travel is quickly thrown out. As she tells him certain things he does stuff in the past that affects the future, causing them to randomly pop into existence in Kate’s present time.  If it’s the past that changes the present wouldn’t be able to notice. Some people won’t get past that issue, but given that I’m in the midst of watching a series of films that defy all the laws of physics I think I can let a magical mailbox slide.

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Being a hopeless cinemaphile , what I love most about this film the beautifully cinematography. From the urban cityscape to the isolated lake house every scene is composed with care and shot with a soft, pleasant edge. The lake house itself is a beautiful location and about half the film takes place there. The only downside is that I had to suffer through the fullscreen version as it’s the only one I have on hand. In fact, I think it’s the only version I’ve seen. Still, even in fullscreen the artful composition is still fantastic.

And this film knows it is beautiful and takes it time, lingers on a number of beautiful moments. The film is paced in the kind of slow, tranquil rhythm that boring people like me love. Take for instance the best scene in the film where Alex and Kate meet and talk about the Jane Austen novel Persuasion. The conversation is one continual long shot and the pacing of the dialogue allows for a lot of moment of silence between lines. It lets the moment expand and gently lets it settle upon us. It’s paced like a poetic meter, lingering on such beautiful moments.

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After seeing Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves slightly flirty romance in Speed it was obvious the two had solid chemistry between them. But the film oddly separates them from each other except for a couple of scenes. As it gets further in the film does cheat a little bit by dissolving one of them into the other’s scene as it sets up a mock conversation but still, they don’t physically exist in the same moment. Keanu Reeves gives what is probably his best and only human performance. His line delivery feels natural and smooth and is a far cry from the deliberate and forced readings he gives in his action roles. Likewise, Sandra Bullock gives a drastically different performance than her norm as a pensive, aloof figure. She’s forced to be much more distant and quiet than her other roles. It sounds odd on paper but in practice it makes for some surprising performances from actors that have been shoehorned into certain roles.

I must confess that this film reduces me to a hopeless romantic. Yes, I’m probably a sap for liking this film but I can’t help but smile when I watch this film. I find myself deeply involved with this beautiful film. Something about the isolation and separation resonates with me.  It’s the same reason why I’m one of the few who love Atonement. Yes, it demands a suspension of disbelief which won’t hold for most and it sacrifices logic to enhance the romance, but that doesn’t stop me from loving every moment of this picture.

© 2009 James Blake Ewing

The Lake House [Blu-ray]