The Lake House

Director: Alejandro Agresti, starring Sandra Bullock (as Kate) and Keanu Reeves (as Alex).

The key is Kate’s casual mention that her favourite book is “Persuasion”. Jane Austen’s plot has young Anne Elliott persuaded to break off her engagement to a man with few apparent prospects. Years later their paths cross. He is now a successful man. She is still single and taking a chief role in nursing sick friends and soothing familial troubles. Both still carry a flame for each other, but can they be persuaded to rekindle their romance?

Kate moves out of the Lake House having transferred in her job to a new hospital, leaving a note for the next tenant. Alex moves in, being the architect overseeing a new local housing development. He finds Kate’s references to non existent paw prints and a box in the attic that’s not there baffling. Kate’s forwarding address is a building site. He’s living in 2004 but Kate’s letter is dated 2006.

Alex sticks a reply in the mail box and gets a reply from Kate, who’s driven out to an empty Lake House to check the mail box. Thus begins a correspondence. Kate follows Alex’s instructions for a tour of the key architectural features of their town. Alex begins reading Kate’s favourite books (Jane Austen’s Anne Elliott also makes literary recommendations). Kate confides to her mother and co-worker she’s corresponding to a boyfriend to ward off pressure not to be single. Alex confides to his brother that Kate feels more real to him than any other woman he’s been with.

Eventually they figure they had met before. Kate’s then boyfriend threw a party attended by Alex. Kate and Alex shared a kiss but went their separate ways. Both had met the right person but at the wrong time. Now’s the right time, but can they find a way of getting together?

The film relies heavily on its charm. The correspondence device seems quaint. Kate’s reading and letter writing in contrast to her hectic hospital work are credible. But Alex is more a Blackberry man yet beguiled by her letters. The film feels lengthy as the pacing is slow, yet, after most over-long films it’s clear which scenes should have been cut, but here it’s difficult to decide. It’s strange then that the only hurried section is the crucial scenes where Kate and Alex finally work out how to get together as if the director doesn’t quite trust the plot.

Otherwise each scene fits seamlessly with the others. The film’s a slow-burner: a contrast with the ‘notice me’ demands of a star vehicle or a technology budget greater than the actors’ salaries. Hence guaranteed to draw a mixed reaction from critics who focused on reinforcing their prejudices of the actors.

But the film’s charm is Jane Austen’s. She lets her characters meander around their daily lives. Anne Elliott’s resignation and jadedness is captured well in Sandra Bullock’s moody mid-distance stares and wan face. Pity she doesn’t reanimate as Anne Elliott did when around her ex-fiancé. Keanu Reeves does all the work here, chasing, rekindling, fanning the flames of a slow burning fire. Read “Persuasion” and watch “The Lake House” again.

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