Sundance 2019: John Lithgow & Blythe Danner in 'The Tomorrow Man'
by Alex Billington
February 10, 2019
The apocalypse is coming, and there's no better way to prepare for that future than to build an overstocked fallout shelter in your home. Right? That's not crazy, is it? Totally sane. Some people think that this is just being properly prepared. The Tomorrow Man is a dramatic comedy from writer & director Noble Jones that just premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It's an eccentric, amusing film with a romantic twist that is about an aging man who lives a quiet, lonely life in a small town. Jones' film is kinda-sorta mocking these "doomsday preppers", as they're known - the people who build special shelters and fill it with all kinds of extra food and supplies and survival equipment - because the media (and others from the internet) have made them think something is about to happen and they should be ready for everything to fall apart - soon.
Jones' The Tomorrow Man stars John Lithgow as Ed, the "doomsday prepper" at the center of this story. He's amusing, but it takes a while to get used to him, mostly because Lithgow doesn't feel that crazy and he's much more convincing as a level-headed, humble man. But as the story plays out and you get to know him more, it does all seem to make sense. He does fit that character. One day he spots another nice lady at the grocery store, an elderly woman named Ronnie, played by Blythe Danner. After he follows her around for a few days he nervously asks her out and the two start to spend even more time with each other. Eventually he discovers she's the exact opposite of him - disorderly and chaotic and yet still so sweet. And despite this he's falling in love with her, and it's sweet (and strange) to watch them act like teens-in-love (all over again).
The film is a bit too quirky and awkward at times, with both Lithgow and Danner playing off of each in such saccharine ways it's almost off-putting to watch. And the film drifts between being serious and meaningful, and also entirely zany and comedic. This isn't that much of an issue as it clearly is a coherent choice to bring some levity to this story, which could easily be taken too seriously as commentary on doomsday preppers. Instead, Jones lets the humor keep this story afloat, providing viewers the chance to empathize with (and safely understand) Ed while also laugh at his ridiculousness. Which is an important aspect of this character to get right, because there are many like him out there for real, and we have to understand where they're coming from instead of bashing or demeaning or ignoring them. And this film handles that with great care.
Overall, The Tomorrow Man is kooky but still very enjoyable. It stumbles a few times, and tries to explore too many ideas without them solidifying into anything rewarding. Lithgow & Danner's relationship is cute, but they are both so awkward it's hard to feel good about either of them. Danner's performance especially made me feel uneasy. But despite all of that, it's a fun film. As zany, and as forgettable as it may be, there's still something clever about it. Especially because it has one of the best endings out of anything I've seen at Sundance this year. Seriously. So perfect and satisfying for this story. It's just right. And it makes up for the rest of everything that happens in the film - good or bad. The takeaway: why always think about tomorrow, when there's so much more to live for right now, today, then to plan for something that may never happen.
Alex's Sundance 2019 Rating: 7 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing