By Jim Slotek
Blythe Danner has shone recently in films about lonely senior citizens finding love – which I imagine is easy to do when, as was the case in 2015’s I’ll See You in My Dreams, the old guy you hook up with is Sam Elliott.
When the old guy is John Lithgow, playing a lonely internet conspiracy nut who can’t stop talking about the impending apocalypse, it’s tougher to see the sparks.
The movie is The Tomorrow Man, a first feature written and directed by sometime Taylor Swift and Keith Urban video director Noble Jones. And it labours under the double task of presenting a believable romance and humanizing a species of online hominid many of us encounter and even hate in our daily lives.
It does the latter by soft-pedalling the troll part. The Tomorrow Man opens with a rant about distractions in our society like sports, and the coming collapse which turns out to be a one-sided phone conversation between retiree Ed Hemsler (Lithgow) and his dismayed son Brian (Derek Cecil).
It’s unclear exactly what kind of online ranter Ed is. He invokes the Federalist Papers at one point, which is a collection of essays supposedly by Founding Fathers like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, expounding on what would become articles of the U.S. Constitution, but which has been embraced by “originalists” and the far right. It’s hinted that he may be racist when he glowers at a South Asian man at a gas station, who grins back at him. His paranoia seems to involve UN troops invading the U.S. And he has hallucinations that the woman on the TV news is making sarcastic comments to him.
The online posts he exchanges are exceedingly polite and supportive in an online community kind of way. In short, Ed is a much nicer conspiracy-monger than the kind you normally encounter.
And Ronnie Meisner (Danner), a woman he at first admires from afar at the supermarket, seems to see an even nicer man than that under his occasional “we’re all gonna die” outbursts. Of course, she’s lonely, having been widowed and also having lost her only daughter to an illness. And she has a secret pathology that only comes out in the last act.
So, I guess the message is, hey, nobody’s perfect.
The online ranter and the woman-with-issues meet cute and mostly stay that way. The lovestruck Ed even shows Ronnie his “safe room” where he hides supplies to wait out the end days.
Jones doles out these little character glimpses in haphazard style, more like vignettes than a story arc. There’s the angry, awkward Thanksgiving dinner where Ed brings Ronnie and father-and-son soon begin exchanging accusations and grievances, occasionally interrupted by Ed’s surly teen granddaughter who brings up reasons she hates HER dad.
And there’s that moment when Ronnie brings Ed to her home, and, let’s just say, her lifestyle collapses his previously held opinion of her.
And then of course, there’s the lazy man’s plot advancer, the medical emergency.
A parade of pulled punches, there’s not enough of anything in The Tomorrow Man to make it stick as drama or even a believable romance. What there is, is Danner and Lithgow giving a grade-A performance as a pair of similarly-aged oddballs. Top marks to them for showing they still have the chops to act above their material.
The Tomorrow Man. Written and directed by Noble Jones. Starring John Lithgow, Blythe Danner and Derek Cecil. Opens Friday, June 7 in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.