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Friday, November 12, 2010

THE LIGHTKEEPERS -- DVD review by porfle

Holy ****, when did Richard Dreyfuss turn into a little old man?  I know he and I haven't been running around in the same circles much since JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, but geez.  He's playing actual "crotchety old geezer"-type roles now, or at least he does in the pleasantly autumnal romantic comedy THE LIGHTKEEPERS (2009).
Since he actually is an old man now, Dreyfuss should have no trouble playing one.  At first, however, he seems to treat the role as though he were still a young actor who's done research for it by observing old people and then mimicking them in a theatrical manner.   With a little Lionel Barrymore and a dash of "Popeye" and "Mr. Magoo" thrown in.  His "Seth Atkins" initially reminds me of an old-salt character who might've dropped in on Captain Kangaroo in between visits from Mr. Greenjeans.  Thankfully, though, he gets better as the story grows more substantial and he's given more to work with.

As John Brown, Tom Wisdom plays one of those witty young man types who seem forever performing for some unseen audience.  His first scenes with Dreyfuss are like something from a mildly-amusing play that would probably seem more amusing if we could hear other audience members tittering at the dialogue.  Wisdom's character is the worldly, mildly flamboyant outsider in an otherwise doggedly folksy setting.

As the story opens in 1912 Cape Cod, we find that former seaman Seth is now the town's resident lighthouse keeper and a resolute woman-hater due to some secret heartbreak in his past.  When a waterlogged John washes ashore one day, muttering something about having fallen overboard from a steamship, Seth takes him in and offers him the recently vacated job as his assistant, with two conditions--no questions about his past, and no funny business with the opposite sex.  John, who apparently has his own similar issues in addition to a mysterious need for anonymity, readily agrees. 

But before you can say "comic complications", two women--young Ruth (Meryl Streep's daughter, Mamie Gummer) and her older housekeeper Mrs. Bascom (the venerable Blythe Danner)--move into the cottage directly next door for the summer.  Hmm...two confirmed bachelors and two single women in a rustic beachfront setting together.  You can pretty much fill in the blanks after that, except for a not-so-surprising plot twist that's both astoundingly coincidental yet somehow inevitable.

What I did find surprising is that THE LIGHTKEEPERS doesn't turn into the insubstantial, lightly farcical rom-com that I was expecting.  Granted, it's still pretty light stuff, but the story manages to generate a certain resonance as the true histories of certain characters are revealed, giving them and the actors' performances a good deal more depth. 

The young couple, especially Ruth, remain somewhat underdeveloped, although John's backstory is finally revealed late in the film.  Meanwhile, Seth and Mrs. Bascom transcend their initial caricatures and become vibrant.  Writer-director Daniel Adams, in an interview included on the DVD, admits that he finds older people more interesting than young ones due to their wealth of life experiences.

Adams has a simple, competent style that makes this seem like one of those made-for-TNT films, with photography that's all hazy-hued and nostalgic.  Composer Pinar Toprak's overly insistent music keeps trying to tell us what to feel before the scene has a chance to make us feel it, although this becomes less of a problem later on as we settle into the story.  Joining the main cast in the film's second half are the great Bruce Dern as an unwelcome presence from Seth's past who brings some vital conflict into the story, and the equally great Julie Harris in a tiny cameo appearance. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  There are no subtitles.  Besides a trailer, the extras menu contains interviews with Dreyfuss and Adams. 

As THE LIGHTKEEPERS nears its mildly dramatic climax, Dreyfuss and Danner have settled into their characters enough to give their scenes together a welcome sort of glow.  And only once or twice did I get the feeling that Dreyfuss was on the verge of proclaiming "I don't-like-the panties-hanging-from-the rod!"  Now that he's started playing old guys, he can only get better at it. 

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