Movie review

The Lake House

Directed by Alejandro Agresti. Starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Christopher Plummer.

Well, I must admit, I’m fond of time-travel romances. I like time travel stories, I like romances, so there you go. I was just trying to think about how many time-travel romance movies I’ve seen, and I thought of five off the top of my head. [How many can you think of? My answers are below.] The time travel — however it is achieved — is always just a way of updating the theme of lovers from mismatched backgrounds, or of lovers separated by circumstance. Seemingly fated to be together, yet kept (or torn) apart.

This movie, in fact, uses Jane Austen’s Persuasion as a reference point, openly drawing the parallels. In what I think is my favorite scene in a movie with a number of nice bits, Alex (Reeves) and Kate (Bullock) sit out on a porch one evening, escaping a party for her that she doesn’t want. He asks her if she’s read Persuasion, and what it’s about. They have a long, very natural conversation, with many emotional pivot points. What I admired about the way this was done is that it was all in one take, a two-shot of both actors, letting them act and react to each other over the course of a few minutes. If the actors come up with the goods in a take like this, which both of them do, hooray for not cutting up the take.

Sandra and Keanu on the porch.The scene continues after that, with a moonlight dance. A romantic song starts playing in the house, and he asks her if she knows it. She says yes, and they begin to dance. I was very surprised to hear the song they chose for this, since it was a Paul McCartney song. The funny thing about it is that it
blows the continuity. The movie goes to great lengths to explain that Alex lives in 2004, and this night is told both a flashback for Kate (who is living in 2006), and present-day for Alex. The problem with the song is that it was released in September 2005. It didn’t exist yet! However, I must say that the sentiment expressed in the song’s music and lyrics exactly fit this particular scene, and the scene’s place in the movie’s story. I can see how they decided that was the right song to use, even with the anachronism.

The movie gets into a little trouble at the end, which is where time travel stories can tend to go haywire. You have to decide whether you’re doing the paradox thing, and how it works to be changing “history,” such as the movie has unfolded so far. Is the movie playing fair by its own rules? It is true that there are earlier scenes that establish all the precedents they need to get away with the ending, but it still seemed a little fishy to me. The more I thought about it, the more problems I noticed in it. Best to not think about it too much, although it’s the kind of movie that will obviously disappoint and/or enrage serious fans of time travel science fiction. They’re completely not the audience for this, though.

Having just worked as a production designer, I ended up staring at the art direction of the movie. It was bursting with color, which I liked. Lots of lovely primaries, along with some subtler palette shifts that are used to help you distinguish which time period you’re in. The seasons change, and time passes, for characters in two different years. Sometimes her colors are warm, and his are cool; sometimes his world is warm and golden and hers is overcast and blue.

I was surprised to see a credit saying that this movie was based on another movie. (The adaptation was written by David Auburn, the author of Proof.) I just looked it up, and the source is a South Korean film called Il Mare or Siworae (2000). I bet that the original would be appealing even to people who really won’t get much out of this remake. Possibly you might want to rent that instead of this, although I would definitely recommend it as a rental.

If you like this sort of thing, that is.

Time Travel Romance Movies

  1. Time After Time (1979) – Nicholas Meyer writes and directs this story of H.G. Wells (Malcolm MacDowell) and his time machine arriving in then-modern-day San Francisco. After filming, MacDowell married Mary Steenburgen, his love interest in the movie.
  2. Somewhere in Time (1980) – Jeannot Szwarc directs Christopher Reeve and a radiant Jane Seymour in what I consider a classic. Stylistically a little stiff (Szwarc has more experience as a television director), but beautifully done, with a very imaginative, non-technological means of time travel. Also stars Christopher Plummer.
  3. The Terminator (1984) – James Cameron writes and directs this superb bit of entertainment, which stars his future wife (and future ex-wife) Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. Gutsy filmmaking, mating brawny, balls-out sci-fi action and chick-flick tragic romance.
  4. Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Bob Zemeckis directs. Mary Steenburgen again, playing the love interest of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The romance gets a little lost in Zemeckis’s action set pieces, but Lloyd is so sweet and sincere, and clearly having a wonderful time exploring the human heart of what had been a largely cartoonish character in the first two films.
  5. Kate & Leopold (2001) – Writer-director James Mangold directs romantic comedy veteran Meg Ryan in a sleeper that surprises you with its charms. Most of this charm handsomely radiates from Hugh Jackman, giving a poised, perfect performance in a role that could easily defeat a number of lesser actors and bigger movie stars. I keep catching this on cable and getting sucked in every time.

Honorable mention: 12 Monkeys (1995), Frequency (2000)

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