For maybe five minutes, you watch The Lightkeepers relieved to see Richard Dreyfuss—a lively, intelligent actor—in anything again. Then it dawns on you that he’s stuck in one of the most boring of bogus scenarios, that of the “old man, voluntarily detached from the world, who learns to love again.” That theme, along with a lost love (Blythe Danner) and beach setting (Cape Cod), recalls the just-as-phony-but-well-acted Message in a Bottle. That film swept you up in its harlequin, fairy-tale emotions; The Lightkeepers, ineptly made, lobs limp clichés in your face.
The Lightkeepers is bafflingly lame in execution: A number of cuts don’t match, and the entire film has a herky-jerky stop-and-start lack of momentum. The structure, somewhat theatrical (though really just “talky”) is an alternation between two couples—one old, one young—slowly, very slowly, discovering one another. In addition to the characters played by Dreyfuss and Danner (the latter a specialist in grace, usually despite the wreckage surrounding her), there is a young British man (Tom Wisdom) recovering from a suicide attempt and a young artist (Mamie Gummer) uncertain of her fragile talent. The men are prideful and clumsy, the women somewhat hesitant and, beneath the chilly exterior, madly in love with love itself. In the accompanying notes, writer-director Daniel Adams boasts that the film “isn’t offensive….I just think there is a demand and a need for films that don’t offend one’s sensibilities.” That is true, there isn’t anything offensive in The Lightkeepers, but there isn’t anything else either.
The poignancy of the picture is ultimately unintentional: Dreyfuss is bizarre-bad here, and it was a major mistake for him to try on some sort of unidentifiable Eastern-U.S. accent that sounds like a combination of broad Anthony Hopkins Americana (particularly reminiscent of the actor in The World’s Fastest Indian, except I liked Hopkins in that film) and a pirate on a discount cruise ship; you wait for Dreyfuss to growl “Arr matey!” to confirm your suspicions. Dreyfuss’s actual voice—normally a little sharp, testy, rich with implied withheld emotion—is sorely missed, as a film this aggressively unsubtle needs all of the livelihood, mystery, and playfulness it can get.