The romantic elements of "The Lake House" actually work out pretty well but the whole time travel business, not so much. That means the movie is a mixed bag that's nevertheless pleasant to watch. Set in 2006, Dr. Kate Foster (Sandra Bullock) is leaving her beloved lake house so she can move to Chicago. Kate leaves a note in the mailbox for whomever in moving in after her letting them know that if any of her mail somehow doesn't get forwarded to notify her. Two years earlier, Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) arrives at the lake house and discovers Kate's letter. Through an exchange of letters, they discover that the mailbox is some kind of portal through time. They get to know each other and a long-distance romance develops. Alex and Kate learn that they met in the past (Alex's present) but didn't get together because Kate was unavailable at the time. With the two are falling in love, is there a possibility of the two of them getting together in 2006 despite the huge time barrier between them?
So the romantic premise is actually pretty ingenious and it's the strongest element of the film. The two lovers are separated not by distance, but by time and because Kate is involved in a relationship in 2004 and also unaware of Alex's presence, there's no way for the two of them to get together unless Alex literally waits 2+ years and finds Kate in her present. It really is an old-school long distance relationship because the only contact they can have with each other is through the mail. No phone calls, no internet chatting, just letters and the anticipation you get waiting by your mailbox for the next note to arrive. There are also some nice dramatic moments with the nature of Kate's work as a doctor and the fact that she is living in the future. She is able to foresee important events in Alex's life and give him glimpses of the future in order to comfort him when he is emotionally fragile. On Kate's side, there's something very romantic about a man wanting to be with you so badly he literally plans his move years in advance and pretty much forgets about the here and now in favor of the romantic future with you. Because the two are separated by so much time, there's also some nice uneasiness about the whole thing. 2 years is a significant wait and who knows what could happen between them or before they actually meet. You've got the drama, the romance and the excitement of uncertain all wrapped up very organically. When the movie is focussing on these ideas and not the little details of the premise, it works.
The problem with the movie is its frequent lapses in logic. It's established in the film that Alex can learn what the future is like and change it so right away there are problems with the story. There is never a moment where Kate slips him some information about a couple of stocks that are going to make it big and Alex never sets up a bank account that will mature into a big sum of money for Kate or anything like that. It's not that the idea is thrown around and then dismissed because it could throw the universe out of balance or anything either. The two never actually seem to understand the actual potential held in being able to talk to someone from the past/future. There are also some moments where the film feels overly contrived. When you have chemistry with a pen pal, the first thing any guy is going to do is try to find a way to see her face via photo. This is a romantic drama though so because it's much more romantic for him to spot Kate at a distance for the first time, Alex never even tries to get her to send him a snapshot. Moments like that are sweet but anyone who has any passing interest in stories that involve time travel will be driven insane watching the film. There feels like a lot of wasted potential in the fact that neither characters ever really try to communicate with their past or future selves too; problems that could have been avoided if there had been just one single moment where we see that the future is not set in stone or something like that. It's like someone said yes to the initial premise and hastily wrote a script without running it through anyone else that would have been able to tighten up some of the looser sequences.
For all of the stuff that works I can't call "The Lake House" a bad film. The romance genuinely works and if you can somehow manage to suspend your disbelief or if somehow you manage to just not notice the time-related flaws I can really sees someone getting swept off their feet by the story. The movie is well shot, particularly when it comes to the architecture related scenes set in Chicago and competently acted with some decent chemistry between the two actors, even if they have very little screen time together. For all of the logical problems though, I can't recommend the movie very highly. It's an average "romance against all odds" film that you won't be unhappy about seeing, but isn't worth rushing out in droves to watch either. (Fullscreen version on Dvd, September 10, 2013)