What if I told you one of the best Keanu Reeves sci-fi movies isn't The Matrix? (And for you hipsters: No, I'm not talking about Johnny Mnemonic either.) I'm talking about a 2006 romantic drama about a scenic lake house that possesses otherworldly power. Though its key, time-displacing concepts are built on a foundation of mud, it's the sheer, transcendent power of love that lets the movie stand tall nearly 15 years later.
The Lake House, the first and only Hollywood movie from Argentine director Alejandro Agresti is the sci-fi film you need to watch before it leaves Netflix on August 31.
Set in 2006, lonely doctor Kate (Sandra Bullock) moves out of a rented scenic lake house in Wisconsin to return to Chicago. Her courtesy letter to the next tenant, left in the mailbox, winds up in the hands of its new resident, architect-turned-construction worker Alex (Reeves) — but two years earlier, in 2004. Instead of figuring out how their mailbox has become a freak time machine or what temporal boundary they've crossed into, Kate and Alex instead pursue a most unusual long-distance correspondence that buds into romance.
While Agresti never directed another Hollywood movie after The Lake House (his 2013 picture No somos animales with John Cusack remains unreleased), the film is penned by Pulitzer-winner David Auburn. For better and worse, this movie shows itself to be the work of a playwright, most obvious when Bullock and Reeves orate their letters in cumbersome dialogue.
"You never told me how beautiful you are," Alex tells her. "Maybe you saw someone else," Kate insists. "Long brown hair. Gentle, unguarded eyes..." Oh jeez. Even Bullock's Kate interrupts him.
Categorically The Lake House is a romantic drama, with just a touch of the supernatural. But for science fiction fans, the movie is an exercise in how to use a sci-fi concept — a bridged connection between two people in two different times — and let it work on emotions and coincidence alone.
This works even when it shouldn't. Yes, it can be frustrating, maddening even, to see the movie unfold as it leaves the logic of its rules unmapped. At a point most convenient, their letters turn into essentially hand-written text messages before morphing into telepathy. When the movie outright defeats fate without a single consequence to the fabric of time and space, you question if the characters in Back to the Future worried over nothing.
But who cares? No one watches a movie like The Lake House, with its Paul McCartney ballads and long-winded references to Jane Austen and Spanish architecture, for hard sci-fi. You watch it because of the dynamite pairing of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, back at it for the first time since they drove a bus with a bomb. The Lake House is an excuse to indulge in autumnal imagery and impossibilities. It's an idealistic movie, its defiance of fate soothing to the soul like fresh herbal tea.
In the end, The Lake House is a comfort watch, even if the world inside is a little cold. (Quite literally too, even in the summer Chicago seems chilly.) Reeves and Bullock behave like weary adults ought to as they're hovered by unfulfilling partners, including Dylan Walsh (Nip/Tuck) as a living "wyd?" text in a gray suit, and an uncharacteristically shrill Lynn Collins. Six years after Lake House Lynn Collins became the Martian princess Deja Thoris in the Disney bomb John Carter. Watching her here as a redhead pining after Reeves in leather fashion boots is a spectacular sight of disbelief.
For a movie obsessed with architecture, The Lake House is not smart when it comes to foundations. It takes its concept and runs amok, with little attention to things like "logic." Good on it. In 2020, when every movie needs to illustrate a rock-solid structure, The Lake House is refreshingly ethereal, even now. It doesn't ask much except to let it whisk you away. And not to some alternate dimension or timeline, but still someplace magical. Maybe someplace the post office is still valued.
The Lake House is streaming now on Netlix until August 31.