|The Lake House (2006)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Director: Angelo Agresti
The people responsible for the ending of “The Lake House” are lowdown, dirty cowards. They had the perfect ending within their grasp, one that would have respected the story and turned the entire audience into a blubbering mess. Instead, they totally, inexcusably chickened out, and tacked on an ending – and there is no question that some serious tacking on took place here –that makes no logical sense, causes more problems than it solves, and left the viewers feeling nothing about what it’s just seen. It might be the best argument yet against focus groups and test audiences, because they drain any and all independent thought out of everything they touch.
Keanu Reeves stars as Alex, a talented architect that works on creating condo communities, much to the chagrin of his domineering designer-genius father Simon (Christopher Plummer). When Alex moves into a lake house outside of Chicago, there is a letter in the mailbox waiting for him from a former tenant, a doctor named Kate (Sandra Bullock) who makes curious mention of imperfections around the house. Alex is confused, as the house has been abandoned for years, and the things that Kate speaks of are things that Alex cannot see. After a few (rushed and poorly executed) correspondence exchanges via the spooky mailbox, the two discover that Alex is living exactly two years behind Kate, and the imperfections that Kate speaks of have yet to happen in Alex’s time. Each is eager to meet the other, but while Kate can easily direct Alex to where she was at a certain time two years ago, he knows that there is no way that two-years-ago Kate is going to believe in the rip in time that has brought them together in her future and Alex’s present.
The premise is an intriguing one, adapted from a South Korean movie “Siworae” (2000) that someone at Warners no doubt acquired after reading Audrey Niffenegger’s novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which Gus Van Sant is making into a movie for Warner Bros. sibling New Line as you read this. The filmmakers clearly thought that luring people into seeing a romantic drama starring two people furiously writing to each other would be a tough sell, so the conversation in the letters is broken up to look as though Alex and Kate are speaking to each other in real time. And as ridiculous as it looks, we go along with it, because hey, they’re two years apart. Speaking your letters instead of writing them is actually less crazy than the reason why Alex and Kate are communicating in the first place.
The ending, sadly, is the least of the movie’s concerns. All of Plummer’s scenes are stilted and awkward, and play out as if they exist solely for the sake of Alex and Kate’s relationship, rather than the sake of Alex and Simon. The setup of Alex and Kate’s separation by time was fumbled too, with Kate sarcastically stating in one of her early letters what year it is for no reason in particular, except maybe to kick the plot into gear. But nothing was fumbled as much as that damned ending, which had the makings of a (pick a Debra Winger movie, any Debra Winger movie)-style three-hankie weeper. The ending that I expected – and was dying to see – has to be on celluloid somewhere, and it damn well better make it to the “Lake House” DVD. But you know what would have been better than adding it to the DVD? Adding it to the theatrical release. Why do all movies have to have happy endings? (Aw, geez, I just blew it for you. For the record, I regret nothing.) Lots of stories have sad endings – “Gone with the Wind,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Titanic,” “Dangerous Liaisons” – and they’re better because of it. Imagine a remake of “Old Yeller” today, where a doctor whips up some crazy concoction that cures the dog and enables him to die of old age. Blech.
“The Lake House,” warts and all, coulda been a contender, but ultimately chose to spoon-feed us happy horseshit instead of cold, hard life. Sure, movies are about escapism – four words: “Snakes on a Plane” – but they don’t all have to be about escapism. Crying never killed anyone, and what would have made “The Lake House” a bona fide classic is if the studio had actually refused to give the people the ending they assumed the people wanted, and instead gave them the ending that the story deserved. Try challenging your audience’s intelligence every once in a while, guys. You might be surprised by the results.
The single-disc release of "The Lake House" isn't very enticing. Aside from the film itself, the only special features that appear are a few deleted scenes and a short reel of outtakes.