Director Daniel Adams has an admirable goal: to make films for a mature adult audience, movies that are not glutted with explosions, foul language, and sexual innuendo. Admirable, that is, if the art is sufficiently engaging to make audiences care enough about the characters (or the story) to stick with it in the absence of the usual gewgaws and piffle. I'm not so sure that The Lightkeepers manages to do that.
The story, set in 1912, concerns the crotchety, aging Seth Atkins, a lighthouse keeper on Cape Cod whose misogynist rantings run off every assistant desperate enough to bach it with the old coot in the first place. When a mysterious young Brit with a similar distaste for women literally washes up on the beach, the stage is set for a PBS-flavored odd-couple romance/mystery. And when the neighboring beach house is rented by the aged Mrs. Bascomb and her young personal assistant Ruth, the direction the film is headed becomes a little clearer. Perhaps too clear.
What Is John Brown's Story?
And yet a couple of real mysteries remain to be resolved by this rather rough-hewn, meandering, tidepool-deep tale. First, what is John Brown's story? His explanation for washing up on the beach is plausible enough; but why is no one looking for him, and why does he have no particular place to go? Is he supposed to represent the Ghost of Seth Past, or something of that nature?
Second, we can pretty much be guaranteed that there's some connection between Ruth/Bascomb and John/Atkins; but what is it, exactly? Ruth's questioning of John yields some tantalizing clues.
Wait for the DVD
Alas! but the answers to these questions get dragged under in an undertow of hammy performances, wordy dialogue, and takes of the sort that are usually left on the cutting-room floor. This is the kind of movie that makes you glad to have small tasks to get caught up on while you watch—not the kind in which to lose yourself at the theater.
Part of the problem is that the beautiful cinematography captures too much of a specific place and period—and that place/period is Cape Cod in, say, 2007 rather than 1912. Everything seems frozen in time rather than living in time, museum pieces moved about a sandy scrimshaw cribbage board.
The nicest thing about the film is what it has to say about the power of reconciliation and transformation. These are values that are always worth thinking about and talking about—values worthy of the highest artistic aspirations. Think, for instance, of Babette's Feast.
But I'm afraid I can't recommend catching this film during its limited theatrical release. Nonetheless, if you like watching Richard Dreyfuss fuss and ham, Blythe Danner and Mamie Gummer as Bascomb and Ruth make Dreyfuss' Seth go down tolerably well. I don't think you'll be sorry you watched it, but I doubt you'll be telling your friends about it, either.
The Lightkeepers is rated PG for some mild thematic elements, brief language and smoking. This is very, very mild stuff. I really don’t know why your kids couldn’t watch it unsupervised. I also doubt they'd want to.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Lightkeepers.
Greg Wright is Managing Editor of both Past the Popcorn and Hollywood Jesus. An ordained pastor, Greg is the author of Tolkien In Perspective: Sifting the Gold from the Glitter (2003) and Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004). A widely-known lecturer on Tolkien, Lewis, film, and fantasy, Greg resides in the Seattle area with his precious wife Jenn and their two cats, Grynne and Bearrett.