Because Ed Helmsler (John Lithgow) is retired, he has a lot of time on his hands. But instead of taking of up gardening or volunteer work or doting on the grandkids, he’s found a very contemporary outlet for his energies. Ed is a prepper, spending money he can’t spare on huge quantities of Marmite and tuna fish and bottled water, which he’s stored in a shed that constitutes his bunker against the catastrophe he’s sure is coming. His main interaction with other people comes from broadcasting his deep thoughts on the internet to an echo chamber composed entirely of other preppers, under the name “Captain Reality.” Not surprisingly, his fellow believers think he’s a great guy, and stroke his ego accordingly. As the old bumper sticker goes: The Internet! It’s like having friends, except not really!
The Tomorrow Man, written and directed by Noble Jones as his first feature, is about 75% John Lithgow, and that’s a pretty good recommendation right there. Unfortunately, judging by this sample of one, Jones is a much better director than he is a writer, and the thinness and predictability of the script is The Tomorrow Man‘s greatest shortcoming. Jones’ script also seriously neglects the film’s co-star, Blythe Danner, who plays Ronnie, Ed’s love interest—she’s not quite the girl in the refrigerator, but the film doesn’t bother much with her except in to relation to Ed and her role in his life. Multiple references to a tragic backstory do not constitute character development, and neither does revelation of a secret that is treated with a complete lack of psychological understanding.
Noble misses an opportunity to create an interesting character study of Ed, whose need to control everyone and everything around him has prevented him from developing the kind of self-understanding necessary to have real relationships with other people. From Ed’s point of view, he’s always right about everything, and anyone who isn’t a prepper like him just doesn’t understand the way the world really is. Hence his affinity for online forums composed entirely of people who share his particular world-view, and his inability to deal with the more varied population found in the world outside those forums.
Ed’s initial attraction to Ronnie is that he thinks she’s also a member of the enlightened few—he observes that she shops frequently and pays for everything with cash, and thus concludes that she must be living off the economic grid. Since social skills are not his strong point, Ed stages an incident in the parking lot of a local to have an excuse to talk to her. Then he proceeds to act like a creepy stalker, and once she lets him into her life he basically tries to take it over. The saddest thing is that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing, any more than he realizes that ranting at his son Brian (Derek Cecil) and Brian’s family is not a good way to keep the lines of communication open.
Unfortunately, the screenplay mainly uses Ed’s prepper mentality as setup for a conventional romantic drama, albeit of the December-December variety. It’s tempting, particularly given the thinly written characterizations and predictable plotting of The Tomorrow Man, to reduce this movie to a clever set of headlines: He lives in the future! She lives in the past! Can this relationship be saved? Fortunately, there’s more to The Tomorrow Man than just the mechanics of the plot, and the performances of Lithgow and Danner go a long way toward saving the film. Danner in particular does a great job of creating an interesting character despite not being given much to work with, and together they effectively sell the proposition that love at any age is something to be cherished and celebrated. | Sarah Boslaugh