Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof) performs the repellent task of drafting a Swiss cheese script for The Lake House based on Lee Hyeon-seung’s original 2000 South Korean film Il Mare. While the movie isn’t as bad as its dubious trailer portends, it suffers terribly from a truncated narrative puzzle device that connects two lovers from different eras via an old-fashioned mailbox at a lake house.
From a quaint but unique lake house that his father (Christopher Plummer) built, journeyman architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) finds himself in a love letter romance across time with Dr. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock). The time-cursed lovers exist two years apart, and yet are somehow able to communicate as if they were carrying on an immediate interactive conversation. Split-screen visuals frequently veer drama into comedy as Reeves and Bullock do a commendable job of masking some of the plot’s glaring potholes with their intrinsic onscreen chemistry.
Director Alejandro Agresti (Valentin) will not be accused of being a visionary or even literal director. In a movie where the main character is a house, Agresti never takes the time to properly introduce the viewer to its finite interior spaces that hover 10 feet above the water. Designed and built specifically for the film, the house is an enchanting piece of iron, glass and wood architecture.
It’s a Swiss cross design with all glass walls surrounding a center area occupied by a large tree that links the interiors of its four equal sized rooms. The center roof opens to allow sun and air to bathe the home’s interior tree, and yet the director makes an incalculable mistake by constantly returning to an attic that clearly doesn’t exist. Agresti is too selfish with his camera to disclose intimate details of the home’s interior spaces, and it’s in keeping with this refusal of logic that he obscures the love story at the heart of the film.
Alex is a dog-loving architect who functions as a contractor boss at a suburban building site where his crew completes a 40-home community. Alex has been out of touch with his brother Henry (well played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and his father Simon because Alex has been unsuccessfully attempting to either “forgive or forget” his father for unspoken sins. The subplots here, as with Bullock’s character Kate, feel cobbled together and never assist in elucidating the intangible romantic connection between Alex and Kate.
Early in the story, Kate attempts to save the life of a man struck by a bus across the street from Chicago’s Daly Plaza where she eats her lunch. Although we only see him from the back, we realize that this is Alex, and that his spirit has invaded Kate’s body on some level that she is left to grapple with on a day-to-day basis. The story flips back on itself as we discover that although Alex, circa 2004, moved into the house after Kate moved out, circa 2006, he had already lived there before her as witnessed by his dog’s paw prints on the entrance deck to the house. This kind of irritating flip-flop syllogism plagues the story during which Alex and Kate attempt to schedule a 2006 meeting at the homage-titled restaurant “Il Mare.”
The Lake House does arrive at a certain romantic inertia in spite of its overstrained narrative puzzlement, but it wraps up before the long-awaited resolution can take hold. There’s no coda. The impact of the movie rests on one scene between Alex and Kate where they meet and dance together at a birthday party thrown for Kate by her former fiance Morgan (Dylan Walsh). The couple strikes up a secluded conversation and relate on a romantic level that leads to a gentle dance and a meaningful kiss. It’s the one time that their relationship feels real. MTW