Monday, August 07, 2006

The Lake House (2006)

The Lake House (Alejandro Agresti, 2006)

Much has been said about Hollywood's near-depleted creative ability, about how Hollywood's scouts scourging the world for new tales to remake, how foreign directors are plucked out of their countries and are turned into dollar-dazed zombies. Along with the boom of Asian cinema is the accompanying invitation from these Hollywood scouts to buy material with the ability to cross-over, and be remade in a way that is palatable to Western tastes.

The Lake House is a reworking of Korean romantic weeper Il Mare (Lee Hyun-seung, 2000), a melodrama about two lovers separated by two years, and their only means of correspondence is a magical mailbox outside a beautiful lake house. The Lake House is almost exactly the same as the Korean classic, except that there's no beautiful lake house but a post-modern glass box in stilts, and no intricately crafted mailbox, but a rusty one standing on a plain wood pole. Nitpicking it might seem, but it marks the hugest difference between the two film: While Il Mare is seemingly intelligent, The Lake House chooses to be middlebrow and conventional to keep viewers from scratching their heads.

But viewers are still scratching their heads. While the film requires you to throw away conventions of logic and reason for at least an hour and a half, I cannot blame the viewers who just couldn't get it. There's nothing special at all with that mailbox, or that house, but does it seem that something mysterious and magical is taking place there. Il Mare, at least tried to address that notion by turning the house into a place that looks magical, and the mailbox, given an untraditional appearance. The Lake House asks too much by forcing us to believe that there's a huge magical hole where all of a sudden logic and reason flies away with something as plain and as drab as the titular abode.

Then there's Keanu Reeves, and the reduction of his character into just another lonely guy who dreams of that fantastic romance. There's this sideplot involving his character that was just thrown into bland simplicity. Alex Wyler, Reeve's character, is an architect who chose to build townhouses and condominium units instead of beautiful edifices, which is against his father's wishes. His father (Christopher Plummer) is a famous architect in the Chicago area, and the lake house, being one of his personal projects, although the house, as I repeatedly insist, is an architectural nightmare: light theories notwithstanding, architecture as an art is more about aesthetics than functionality, is bought by Alex who claims he left his father to forget about him. The father-son relationship was one of the emotional highlights of Il Mare but wasn't given the proper meticulousness and artistry, and further hurt by Reeves' inept acting.

Well, there's Sandra Bullock, who's always charming in a sunny sort of way. She's given much less here, but does more. She doesn't have these emotional sideplots, but is only given a character which you can root for primarily because of her simple yet splendid characterization. Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti tries too hard for subtlety, but eventually fails. The musical score, the editing, even the glossy cinematography: these elements are meshed to keep the film grounded on a mixture of reality and fantasy while wrestling with the melodramatic narrative. However, it all ends up a saccharine romp that concludes in a sorely disappointing conventional note.

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