It’s not that THE LAKE HOUSE, based on the Korean film SIWORE, is an insipid bit of romantic fluff, it’s just that it drags by much like the two-year gulf between our chronologically crossed would-be lovers. And when a film is 108 minutes long, that’s not a good thing. Never mind that its own internal logic starts to break down about halfway through.
Dr. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) has just left the eponymous house, a big glass box on stilts actually, to take up her post at a Chicago hospital. On a lunch break, she sees a man run over by a bus, who subseqently dies in her arms after a heroic effort to save him. Dispirited by the fragility of life, her mentor (Shoreh Agdashloo who once again steals the film with a supporting role imbued with rich emotional texture), suggests that Kate do something to take her mind off work, prompting her to drive back to the lake house. Once there she looks in the mailbox where she left a letter for the new tenant and to her surprise, there is a reply from that tenant, architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves), but dated two years earlier. They begin a correspondence, courtesy of the magic mail box in which replies appear almost as soon as a note in placed inside. Things get odder. Paw prints for which Kate apologizes don’t exist for Alex, and neither does Kate’s new address, at least not for Alex. Slowly, they realize that there is something very strange and yet very wonderful going on, as the pen-pals click and the film begins to run on parallel tracks exactly two years apart.
A film like this requires a certain suspension of disbelief and it overcomes the first hurdle of that nicely with a sweet whimsy to the way the script has Kate and Alex speaking their letters to each other in a lively overlapping way that smacks of a real progression in their relationship. And there are nice touches, such as when Alex sends Kate on a walking tour of Chicago’s architecture where she finds graffiti that he left for her two years’ previously, and the synchronicity of events in Alex’s present and Kate’s past. There is a twist, of course, which the audience can spot almost from the flick’s get-go, but for some reason, these two highly intelligent characters don’t glom onto it until an unreasonable amount of time has gone by. Further annoyance comes from a subplot involving Kate’s mother that goes nowhere.
Still, Bullock is credible, bringing serious conviction and some grit to the table with none of the clod-hopping schtick that dominates her comedic more or less successful comedic efforts. Here she’s more introspective, furrowing her brow over the fear that life is passing her by as she wavers over settling for her on-again, off-again boyfriend (Dylan Walsh), the emotionally vacant lawyer, or pinning her happily-ever-after to a guy who is all there emotionally, it’s the here-and-now department that finds him deficient. Reeves’ character is more of a cipher, which could be the writing that focuses more on Kate. Or maybe it’s Reeves himself who is too lightweight for the angst the role requires, what with an inner struggle over selling out his dreams and the cliché crusty father (Christopher Plummer) to contend with on top of hopeless love for a woman in the future that he, for reasons that never become apparent, refuses to court in his present. Even when he is offered the chance of a slow dance and a wealth of inside information.
It’s that sort of thing that ultimately sinks the film and that lovely suspension of disbelief. A few anomalies could be forgiven, but such obtuseness in putatively sharp cookies, no way. Particularly when the climax wobbles off into the corner of the time/space continuum known as “what the heck was that?”. Romantics, an optimistic lot by their very nature, at least the ones who prefer their stories to proceed at a leisurely pace and have no worries about coherence, might have a good time. Others will want to spend their time elsewhere.