Run time: 1 hour 34 minutes
Stars: Blythe Danner, John Lithgow
Director: Noble Lincoln Jones
Ed (John Lithgow, 73) is living in the future. Meanwhile, Ronnie (Blythe Danner, 76) is stuck in the past. Will these two meet in the middle and, through a love connection, start to live together in the present?
Debut writer-director Noble Lincoln Jones’ dramedy is a delightful oddity in our superhero era. His quiet, character-driven romance explores the meaning of love, and life, and centers on two conflicted septuagenarians.
The movie begins with a deep dive into Ed, a retired computer engineer with way too much time on his hands. Or maybe not enough — he's become convinced that the planet is nearing the end of days. This sense of looming apocalypse has only been intensified by a perpetual stream of TV news. The box is his constant, and virtually only, companion.
Ed leaves his neat and orderly ranch house in an old truck to run errands. His constant trips to the grocery store to pick up batteries and canned goods for his secret and well-stocked panic room put his shopping cart on a collision course with another regular customer, Ronnie.
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Finally, something in the present — an attractive flesh-and-blood woman — distracts him from his morbid obsession. Ronnie, with her vibrant wavy white hair and self-possession, is clearly a knockout at any age. She appears to be one of those cheery yet guarded ladies who project kindness and civility.
Yet, as the movie unfolds, following Ronnie to her work as a salesclerk at a gift shop, it becomes increasingly clear that she's hiding in plain sight. The benign smile she shows to the world is a ruse: She's built a wall around the pain and shame she hides in a small house where she lives alone.
Their romance unfurls slowly. Ronnie initially suspects this stranger stalking her in the soup aisle, following her to her car; Ed reclaims his masculinity by initiating contact, challenging himself to be vulnerable to another person again, with awkward attempts at charm and wit. From their meet-cute at the drab grocery through their first date and halting intimacy to a disastrous Thanksgiving dinner at his son's house and their ultimate reconciliation, it's a wonderful and moving love story.
Writer-director Jones roots the romance in mundane reality, although he heightens the mood with a sci-fi sense of dread that Ed may, in fact, be right about the impending apocalypse. And for a music video director (Taylor Swift: The Story of Us), Jones shows enormous visual restraint.
A weaker element is the secondary plot involving the antagonism between Ed and his son, Brian (Derek Cecil). The Thanksgiving set piece where Ed takes Ronnie to meet his family is overly familiar.
And, yet, the acting of the leads soars. Lithgow and Danner demonstrate that their craft ripens with maturity. Both are capable of comedy and tragedy, sometimes within the same scene — or a single line. To watch the pair dive deep into their roles, swimming toward each other against the tide of time, makes The Tomorrow Man a movie worth seeing today.