There is an interesting relationship at the heart of "The Lake House", with a good performance from Sandra Bullock, but ultimately the film cheats, unravels and lets the audience down.
Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock), a new doctor, leaves the Lake House, where she lived during part of medical school. Now that she is starting her residency in Chicago, she needs to live closer to the hospital. She leaves a letter for the new tenant requesting they forward her mail. Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves), a condominium developer, moves into the Lake House and reads Kate's letter. But he finds that she has referred to things that aren't there. Confused, he writes her back. After a bad day at the hospital, Kate drives out to the Lake House and checks the mailbox, finding the letter from Alex. She responds and puts another letter in the mailbox. Alex sees the flag on the mailbox raise and reaches in to find Kate's letter. They soon realize something strange is happening and ask each other the date. Alex is in 2004 and Kate is in 2006. They begin a correspondence and eventually agree to meet at a trendy restaurant in 2006. At the same time, Kate has to deal with a former boyfriend who left her after he saw her kissing a guy at a party. And Alex has to deal with his office assistant, a young woman who longs to be Mrs. Wyler, or at least Mrs. Right Now. Will they ever meet in person? Can this relationship be possible?
Surprisingly, given the outlandish nature of the story, "The Lake House", directed by Alejandro Agresti, written by David Auburn (the Pulitzer prize winning play "Proof", which later became a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins) and based on a Korean film, manages to make the relationship between Alex and Kate believable, to an extent. This is remarkable because they are almost never in the same frame of film or even the same time period. Their relationship consists of many conversations, through letters. After a while, the director and writer put them in the same locations, but for different reasons and two years apart. For instance, when Alex is visiting his father (Christopher Plummer) in the hospital, he writes a letter to Kate, who is taking a break in the same hospital cafeteria as she responds. It gives them the illusion of being in the same scene together, even though, of course, they aren't.
Sandra Bullock is very good as Kate. She manages to convey the loneliness and fatigue the young doctor experiences as she begins her residency and deals with the problems of such a job. Then, when she first begins corresponding with Alex, her amusement at the idea of such a relationship is clear. She can't quite believe it, but she continues. But as she begins to reveal more to him, and vice versa, we understand why she would become involved. All of these elements add up and make her character believable. When she confides in her supervisor (Shohreh Aghdashloo, "House of Sand and Fog", "American Dreamz", TV's "24"), we get the sense she has also had some sort of unconventional relationship, that she understands, she has sympathy. As Kate works through the various difficulties of such a relationship, her actions are believable because she is lonely, busy and unable to make a real connection with someone else.
Keanu Reeves is good, but this is not the type of film he should be making. Reeves is better in science fiction and action films which require him to say little and emote even less. Neo in "The Matrix" trilogy is the perfect role for him. When I first heard about this film, the trailers made a point of mentioning that writer David Auburn was a Pulitzer Prize winner. When I heard this, I immediately thought `playwright' and after doing some research, I confirmed this. Often when a playwright writes a film, their dialogue still retains the feel of a play. They are two very different mediums and require different things. In a play, you need to be succinct, to capture the essence quickly. In a film, the dialogue and story need to seem more natural, allowing a little more time. I was happy to see that much of "House" doesn't have this problem. Reeves delivery doesn't lend itself well to this type of writing. At one point, as Alex is showing his brother the Lake House, he says "It's beautiful. Seductive even." Who speaks like this? On the few occasions when the writer does veer into theatrical stage territory, the actors are able to handle it and incorporate their lines into normal speech patterns. Everyone except for Reeves. When he says this line, it sounds like a teenager practicing his role in the school's production of "Our Town".
As the film progresses, the writer and director come up with interesting ways to get Bullock and Reeves in the same scenes, in the same timeframe, but this ultimately points to a large hole in the plot. Of course, since we are talking about a story involving time travel, maybe holes in the plot are required. That said, Alex and Kate do meet a couple of times between 2004 and 2006, yet later in the film Kate doesn't seem to know who Alex is. This might be understandable if they were casual encounters, but they share a significant conversation, meet on another occasion, and more. Later, when a significant event happens, she doesn't seem to realize it was Alex. It doesn't make sense.
At one point, Alex creates a walking tour of Chicago's architecture for Kate. This is a nice scene, giving them a sort of virtual date. It also shows off the charms of the city. He marks sights on a map and follows along with her, showing off the best buildings in Chicago, the buildings which caused his interest in a career in architecture.
In the end, the film uses a cop out, which I can't really discuss as it would reveal the ending. Basically, the film betrays its own story and takes a complete turn in the wrong direction.
Okay, I'll admit it. I cry when a Hallmark commercial plays on television. Yet, somehow, I wasn't moved by the relationship between the two leads. I was interested in their correspondence, but I never felt for them as a couple. Bullock was good and I believed she was Kate, but she is only half of the equation. Part of the problem is that they spend most of the film conversing from afar, sharing little screen time together. It makes it difficult to see them as a couple. I guess I didn't understand why Reeves would go to such great lengths to find Kate. He has women throwing themselves at him, yet he wants to carry on a written correspondence for over two years? His assistant is practically ready to jump on top of him, yet he wants to hold out for a woman he has only met a few times? I understand why Kate would be willing to pursue this relationship; as mentioned, she is lonely and extremely busy. But Alex doesn't seem to have the same problem. When they finally do get together, this should trigger waterworks and I didn't even have a moist eye.
For these reasons, what starts out as a promising romantic drama falls apart.