The statement I am about to make isn’t grounded on objective observation (I can’t see into the future), but I’m going to throw caution into the winds of personal feeling and say it anyway: The Lake House is the best movie of 2006. I know, we’re not even halfway through the year yet. I have no right making such a claim. But make it I will. Romances like this simply don’t come along every day…or year…or decade.
I’m not a big fan of chick flicks, for two main reasons: (1) typically, they center around immorality, and (2) they are extremely unrealistic. As such, most modern romances could be appropriately filed under the category of “fantasy.” For me, fantasy and romance aren’t usually the best combination. (I have a hard enough time as it is viewing romance from a Biblical perspective without subjecting myself to Dr. Worldly Love’s advice.) The Lake House, interestingly enough, is a fantasy—and yet it reaches heights of relational realism that other films only dream about.
Though it isn’t perfect, the budding romance between Alex (Keanu Reeves) and Kate (Sandra Bullock) is refreshingly and amazingly Biblical. Mature masculinity and femininity are on glorious display here. Alex is the initiator and Kate responds to Alex’s advances. That’s not to say Kate just sits around and does nothing (she initiates in certain areas as well), but Alex is clearly the leader in the relationship. And his leadership is marked by a servant’s heart. (The planting-the-tree scene shown in the trailers is one example.) Biblical views on romance are not only discussed—they are praised. Themes of self-control and waiting on romance (i.e., not rushing it) are poignantly woven into the story—especially during the third act (with a statement and plea from one of Kate’s last letters that almost had me in tears).
One aspect that gives the film a healthy dose of reality is the genuine and solid performances of its two lead characters. (Yes, even Keanu Reeves is believable.) When either of them feel an emotion, we feel it right along with them. Supporting roles are expertly performed, but the film rests squarely on the capable shoulders of Reeves and Bullock.
My biggest problem with the movie is a particular plot point (which I can’t explain without ruining the story) that takes place in the film’s first few minutes. It blatantly reveals the climactic twist near the end. They might as well have put up a glowing neon sign saying, “This is where the movie is going.” I wish the filmmakers had found a more suitable—and subtle—plot point. (The problem might be with the original 2000 South Korean film Il Mare, on which The Lake House is based.) After seeing how the film is resolved, though, that problem becomes a minor distraction.
Film critic James Berardinelli thinks the ending has a tacky, tacked-on feel. I disagree. The resolution, while not airtight, is fitting and satisfying. Unlike the ill-conceived plot point mentioned above, the running themes (many of which revolve around the characters discussing Jane Austen’s book Persuasion) foreshadow the ending quite well. In fact, if the film ended differently, much of the dialogue and thematic thrust would have become meaningless.
Speaking of Jane Austen, I have never had a desire to read any of her works. But the use of the storyline from Persuasion was so effective that I decided to check the book out and see if it's something I'd like to read.
The Lake House is the newest addition to my list of favorite movies. If all romantic dramas were this good, I’d watch every single one of them. This is the must-see movie of the year. Forget big budget blockbusters. Go see The Lake House.
Artistic Merit: 9/10
Personal Marks: 11/10 (no, that’s not a typo—it’s numeric hyperbole)
On a side note: One of the trailers before the movie was for Lady in the Water. Having already seen it, I knew there was a jump scene coming up. The person sitting to my right was Michael Cummins, my long-time filmmaking collaborator. As the jump scene drew closer, I moved my hand down near his knee…and when a sudden and vicious movement onscreen scared everyone in the audience, I viciously grabbed Michael’s leg. Trying to describe his response wouldn’t do it justice. Suffice it to say, I scared the living daylights out of him. As a result, everyone else laughed hysterically—and Michael proceeded to punch me repeatedly…which didn’t stop me from laughing at all. Ah, good times.