The feature debut from writer/director Noble Jones (a short film and music video veteran), The Tomorrow Man, is less a film about two older people finding each other and more an acting exercise by two wonderful performers who aren’t doing their best work in this quirky but not especially interesting look at the way people view the immediate future. The ingredients for something unique and special are evident, but ultimately the characters’ colorful (and wildly different) personality traits seem more important than what happens when you put them in close proximity.
John Lithgow plays Ed Hemsler, a former systems analyst at a ball-bearing factory, who is a man of numbers and data and planning for the unexpected—in this case a global crisis that may never happen in his lifetime. Ed is a man of order and routines, and when we first hear his voice as the film begins, it sounds like he’s giving a serious lecture, when in fact he’s simply having a casual phone conversation with his grown son (Derek Cecil). During one of his daily shopping trips, he spots Ronnie Meisner (Blythe Danner) moving through the aisles, and he’s intrigued enough by her that he arranges to meet her in the parking lot. Before long, this awkward pair are going on a date.
Ronnie works at an antique store, and her backstory is a little more mysterious, which immediately makes her more interesting to Ed and us. Without going into too much detail, Ronnie’s world is the polar opposite of Ed’s. She lives in the moment and doesn’t concern herself much with the dangers the future might hold. If anything, she’s trapped in the past, where a great tragedy has left her and her home stuck. Some of the best moments in The Tomorrow Man occur when Ronnie and her much younger boss (Eve Harlow) discuss the elder’s fledgling relationship with Ed. Honestly, their moments comparing notes on men are the most entertaining scenes in the film.
Despite all odds, Ed and Ronnie’s romance takes off, so much so that he even brings her to meet his son and his family for Thanksgiving, which is where we meet Ed’s rebellious granddaughter (Sophie Thatcher), who seems to share Ed’s distrust of the modern world—or at least she pretends to because she knows it irks her father. But there comes a point where Ronnie’s issues with her past and Ed’s issues with his preparations for the future are revealed to the other, and this leads to tension, conflict, and an uncertain outcome for the couple. And honestly, I couldn’t have cared less whether they ended up together or not, because they both need intense therapy before they try to make a go at a relationship.
Lithgow and Danner certainly make the journey these two characters take more interesting than it might have been on paper, but they can’t save these characters from being underwritten and not especially pleasant to spend time with. The Tomorrow Man is more of an idea about making the best of the present, but that theme never goes deep enough to make it anything more than a curiosity. The film ultimately fails entirely as a character study.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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