The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.
For fans of the original Speed, the announcement of a romantic drama called Il Mare was one eleven years in the making. I remember that morning well. It was in early 2005, and I was in my sophomore year dorm room at Loyola Marymount University. I clicked over to comingsoon.net, probably my favorite of all the movie news sites, and saw this headline at the top of the news stories: “Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves Re-Team for Il Mare.” I clicked on the article, read through it at least twice, and danced around my dorm room to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.”
Over the years, Sandra has had solid chemistry with some of her leading men — Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping, for example — but the best chemistry she ever had with one of co-stars was Keanu Reeves in Speed. Jason Patric? Chris O’Donnell? Harry Connick Jr.? No, thanks. If she were to ever re-team with one of her co-stars, I hoped it would be Reeves. Of course I wanted them to reunite for Speed 2, but Reeves passed on the project. Most people applauded him for avoiding the critically dissed sequel, but everyone would likely agree that the sequel would’ve been far better if he had returned. Chemistry is something unexplainable, something that can’t be planned. Sandra and Reeves have it. And I hoped for years that they’d find another project to do together. In 2006, that project was Il Mare, later retitled The Lake House.
For fans of Sandra, and especially those who enjoy seeing Sandra and Reeves together, there’s a lot to admire and cherish in The Lake House. Unfortunately, in the years since its release, it’s difficult to categorize this film as anything but disappointing. Of course the main disappointment is obvious — they only spend a few minutes together on-screen. Why hype their return to a film if they spend the whole thing apart? But this core letdown wouldn’t matter if the film itself was a great one, and while it’s not a bad movie, The Lake House is often too slow, and too precious, when it could be soaring. Watching it again after all these years, I was reminded just how dull the middle hour of the movie gets, and how when the movie focuses on anything but getting the two main characters together, the narrative drags.
First, let’s get the bad out of the way, so we can focus on the good, because although The Lake House is not the film it could have been, there are some interesting elements to be found here. Some may call the worst part of The Lake House the whole time travel element, which, yes, is a bit silly. But time travel in a film’s narrative is a device you either go with or laugh at, and often I just go with it. It’s not the time travel that doesn’t work so well in The Lake House; it’s in the deadly serious nature the movie deals with it. Alex (Reeves) and Kate (Sandra) come to learn that their mailbox has the ability to transport letters, as well as anything else that can fit inside, back and forth in time, two years apart — and yet they treat this miracle as if the mailbox was recently painted with pretty colors. There’s literally no excitement or enthusiasm given toward this incredible happening! This is an element of the story that I didn’t really think about when I saw it the first time in 2006, but it was at the forefront of my mind upon this later viewing. The subplots in the movie don’t really add much either, like Alex’s relationship with his dying father (Christopher Plummer), who isn’t developed enough to gain much interest in. Kate’s on-and-off boyfriend (Dylan Walsh) and Alex’s sort-of-girlfriend (Lynn Collins) are total blanks.
And then there’s the central, glaring paradox of the movie, which if actually analyzed makes no sense. Alex is killed in 2006 while walking across the street to get to Kate, and then on that same day two years later Kate learns that the man who died that day was Alex. Therefore, she goes back to the lake house and writes him a letter, telling him to stay away from her for two years, to wait for her, and to come find her that very day. Magically, he does show up just a few seconds later, not dead, and very much alive. Sandra and Reeves’ final kiss is so passionate and wonderful you can almost forgive the lame-brained logic. But when you think about it, the ending doesn’t work, because of this paradox: If Kate literally watched Alex die two years ago, how could he still be alive two years later?
Aside from these problems, however, there is a lot to enjoy in this film. The production design and cinematography are top-notch, with that striking house on the lake specifically built for the film, and with gorgeous photography of Chicago in both the summer and winter. There is a beautiful sequence where Alex and Kate go on a walk together, two years apart, in the windy city. Just the way the director Alejandro Agresti shoots the film is really striking in its sometimes dream-like quality. The performances by Sandra and Reeves, aside from the previously mentioned quibble about their apathy toward the plot’s time travel element, are great, and this film, after Crash, continued Sandra’s trajectory toward finding better material.
That last scene, when they finally find each other and he plants on her one of the greatest, wettest kisses in film history, is a great one (again, beautifully shot), but the best scene in The Lake House takes place about halfway through, when Alex meets Kate for the first time in his timeline, in 2004. She doesn’t know who he is yet, of course, but he’s been writing to her for months. She says a quick hello to him at her surprise birthday party, then gets to talking to him on her front porch. The director Agresti does something extraordinary here, especially for a mainstream movie: he allows Sandra and Reeves to just sit together and talk, in one single take, for three minutes or longer. For someone who had waited twelve years to see these two together again on-screen, I found this one shot to be like magic. And the ensuing scene where they dance to Paul McCartney’s “This Never Happened Before” is just as hypnotic. While the film has problems as a whole, this segment works wonders.
Finally, did anyone notice the various nods to Speed? The first is that Reeves’ name in the film is Alex, which was the name of Annie’s boyfriend in Speed 2, played by Jason Patric. The second is that the dog that at one point belongs to both Alex and Kate is named Jack, which was Reeves’ name in the original Speed (Sandra did indeed call the dog this to reference the 1994 action movie). And the whole movie revolves around an accident in which Reeves’ character is hit by — what else — a bus! The film tonally couldn’t be any different from Speed, but the nods are definitely there.
Will Sandra and Reeves ever make another movie together? On the interview circuit for The Lake House, they both said they would love to do a third film, if the right script ever landed in their laps. It’s been more than a decade since The Lake House, and they’re not getting any younger. Here’s hoping for one more film starring Sandra and Reeves, one that’s hopefully not The Lake House 2, or — yikes — Speed 3. The Lake House is decent entertainment, but these two deserve something extraordinary.
Best Scene: Sandra and Reeves chat on the front porch, then dance on the grass.
Best Line: “It’s kind of a long distance relationship.”
Sandra revealed that the title house had running water but no toilets.
The Lake House was the first movie to be released simultaneously on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray.
Sandra and Reeves won Choice Liplock at the 2006 Teen Choice Awards.
The name of the exclusive restaurant in the film is Il Mare. This is the name of the International title of the Korean film The Lake House was based on.
John Cusack was the first choice for the role of Alex, but he declined. He turned down Brendan Fraser’s role in Crash as well.