Heartthrob Cop. Cyberpunk Courier. Kung-fu Criminal. Hacker Christ. Keanu Reeves’ charm and consistency have kept him in the echelon of America’s movie-star sweethearts, particularly in an age where everything else has gone to complete shit. This September, Midwest Film Journal is shining a spotlight on some of his best roles. Replacement Quarterback. Garage Rockstar. Devil’s Advocate. Haunted Assassin. It’s a Keanu World Order. We’re just living in it.
The angular glass-and-steel titular home in The Lake House is a peculiar structure designed to exemplify its fictional architect’s lack of human connection. It nonetheless encourages romance via an inexplicably magic time-traveling mailbox between said architect’s estranged son, Alex (Keanu Reeves), in 2004 and a Chicago doctor, Kate (Sandra Bullock), who lives in 2006, having purchased the house two years after Alex deserted it.
Its eye-catching design and totally transparent nature render it an inanimate equivalent to Reeves’ performance as Alex. As a romantic lead, Reeves is as good as he’s ever been at doing precisely what he does best: Being Keanu Reeves. What does that mean? The greatest asset in Reeves’ arsenal is that he’s incapable of disappearing into his characters. Every emotion his characters express is absolute. Anger? He’s gonna scream. Love? He’s gonna shine those puppy-dog eyes. Excitement? Reeves knows only exuberance. Contrary to a lot of criticism, Reeves is not talentless. He’s just limited. His performances are orders of magnitude greater than an actor who tries to be someone else. The lack of role-playing makes him feel paradoxically genuine.
The Lake House, a remake of Korean drama Il Mare, also feels genuine. Articles abound about the building of the Lake House for the film, such as this one. They built it on the shore of a lake outside Chicago, where director Alejandro Agresti filmed his Gold Coast romance on location. It is a loving depiction of the city, in a manner many movies that shoot there don’t seem interested in achieving. Landmarks are one thing — and destroying them with giant robots another — but Agresti finds small locations that are recognizable and uses the seasonal extremities of Midwest weather to convey the passage of time in the background. It is comfortable. Comforting. Especially now. I like Chicago. I used to visit once or twice a year. I have family there. I probably won’t return for a long time.
Anyway, Sandra Bullock’s performance as Kate is as quintessentially Bullock as Alex is Reeves. Bullock has more range than her co-star, but not by much and she doesn’t use it here. Nothing is required of her. The audience only asks that these two chronologically displaced lonely hearts meet their soulmates before all is said and done. Does it matter that Alex is killed in Kate’s when, early on in the movie? Not really. Time travel has no rules in storytelling, it’s a means to an end, and the end of the romance in The Lake House is precisely what it needs to be.
Look: Alex may die at the start, but through the power of love and temporal USPS, Kate warns him away from his certain doom and they end up happily ever after. There’s no question that he died earlier on, but now he is no longer dead. Is this an alternate timeline? Was the dead man not him after all? Does it matter? Is time travel real? No, I mean, probably not. If it was, I’d tell myself to watch The Lake House sooner.