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Friday, Oct. 6, 2006
Building a bridge in time
By KAORI SHOJI
Love and architecture form an intriguing blend in "The Lake House," in which the muddled imperfection of human relationships contrast with the elegantly precise lines of buildings that let in gorgeous shafts of sunlight. The buildings are articulate, logical structures; the characters are confused and frustrated, leaving trails of half-finished sentences, unresolved emotions and exchanges of endearment that stop midway.
Directed by Argentine Alejandro Agresti ("Valentin") this is a remake of a 2000 Korean megahit "Il Mare" in which two lonely urban professionals rent a lake-side house in differing years (he in 2004, she in 2006) and correspond with letters via the property's magical mailbox. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) is a doctor in a big hospital and Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) is an architect.
Though they can't meet (at least not in the same time zone, nor in the same frame of mind) the pair fall deeply in love and wonder if there's a common, simultaneous future for them, maybe in 2007? They wait and they hope, taking cues from her favorite book: Jane's Austen's "Persuasion," which is also about timing and love.
The time-space continuum is a nice movie mechanism albeit a confusing one in this case, since 2 years time difference isn't so huge -- in fact, they almost have dinner one night in 2006 with Alex making a reservation at a famous Chicago restaurant two years earlier. (Kate shows up, but Alex doesn't.) And since the pair are sending scarves and books to each other besides all the notes, you'd think they'd sneak cell phones and blackberries in there too, just to see what happens. But director Agresti is so caught up in tracking the respective dissatisfaction and loneliness of Kate and Alex, he simply chooses to ignore the glitches in the logic; there are some dicey moments in there when the time-space thing collapses through the roof, so to speak. And if you'll forgive the banality, how come these two never try to do something with this wondrous mailbox magic, huh? Think of what they could do with World Series bets, stock-market tips, et al. But no, even the tiniest slither of such thoughts never seem to cross their minds. The letters are limited to talking about their feelings ("Some days I feel like nothing is working out"), talking about work ("I just got off a 30-hour shift"), talking about the difficulty they had with their fathers and other standard love-story fare. Yawn.
But then "The Lake House" has its reasons: a pairing of Bullock and Reeves for the first time since "Speed" 12 years ago, the movie that goes down in cinema annals as the story of the couple that sparked, went red hot and then never came together again. Bullock and Reeves manage to repeat some of the rapport they had going back then, so it's kind of unfortunate that they spend so much of the screen time apart.
Bullock is, as ever, perky and likable as the smart, over-worked professional who puts the job first and is a natural at "helping people," as she puts it. This, in fact, is her oeuvre; what's "Miss Congeniality" if not a woman who always misses her dinner date because she has to run to meetings or capture some drug dealer? As for Reeves, he turns in a remarkable performance in which being "wooden" (the most-oft repeated attack on him) is an asset. Alex doesn't have a shred of phoniness to him and says everything like he really, really means it. It's a rare man who can wait two years before even holding the hand of the woman he loves but with Alex, not only do you believe he can do it, you're also inclined to think he won't date anyone else in the interim. Sincerity is his hallmark and even when he delivers the line: "I'm an architect. I like to build," in the voice of a priest intoning Mass it's somehow endearing instead of outright cornball.
Apart from the lead duo, the one to watch is Christopher Plummer, who plays Alex's estranged architect dad. The senior Wyler had designed the lake house for his family when Alex was still a boy; an elegant, all-glass structure on stilts, standing in the water. A maple tree grows inside and the glass roof closes around it, "containing and isolating" as Alex describes it, which, of course, is his own assessment of his cold and distant father. Channeling Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Plummer has a marvelous scene in which he waxes about the preciousness of light to any building, the importance of working "with nature" to make a structure that is truly harmonious with the environment. The lake house was less about architectural conceit than an expression of familial commitment -- it's not hard to imagine that love -- even one as improbable as this -- can happen here.