He likes the way she shops.
Something about the items the stranger picks up at the supermarket, the care she seems to take, the fact that she pays with cash convinces Ed to compliment Ronnie.
“Strategic,” he says of her manner. “I know. And I know that you know.”
Ed may have leapt to conclusions, but he’s the sort of retiree who dives in, head first. He talks and talks. He follows her to the antique store where Ronnie is always late for work.
He instantly shares his worldview with her, the fact that the world consists of “those who want to control you, and those who don’t want to BE controlled.”
Ed (John Lithgow) is overwhelming, and Ronnie (Blythe Danner) seems like the easily overwhelmed type. But there’s a connection, generational, accepting, one might even say “settling.”
Whatever else Ed has erroneously assumed, neither one of them wants to be alone “on the wrong side of 60,” even though Ronnie instantly abhors that phrase.
“The Tomorrow Man” is a fragile fable of love between the fastidious, plan and over-plan for “tomorrow” Ed, and the passive, trapped in the past Ronnie.
Cinematographer turned writer-director Noble Jones can’t quite make it come off, but there are pleasures in watching two accomplished actors stage a character-development workshop, even in a film that isn’t all that.
Fastidious Ed has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and paranoia, stocking up on food, supplies, fuel and gear for the day when the “SHTF.” The last three letters stand for “hits the fan.”
He used to work in quality control at the ball bearing plant in nearby Syracuse, but the day he discovered the Internet is the day he abandoned quality control of the information he takes in. He is wound up and not rich enough, even in their small rural town, to be called “eccentric.”
We wonder why Ronnie isn’t seeing the warning signs that we do. He overwhelms her, hyper, arrogant, a man who’s watched enough cable TV news to figure he has it all figured out.
Ronnie doesn’t share his mania for news (and a little sports). She’s into war documentaries. As passive as she is, she accepts his attention, embraces it, and helps things escalate at her own pace.
She’s too genteel to brush him off, too flattered to let this last chance at something wander off, too damaged to admit that this “compromise” is between two people with little in common other than their generation.
She suffered a great loss, and never recovered from it. She’s the polar opposite of Ed.
But he bulldozes on, wearing his emotions on his sleeve and sharing his deepest secret with her — the stash he has hidden behind a wall of his house, his survival insurance.
To his credit, Lithgow never lets this guy become a Fox News/InfoWars/Glen Beck gold-buying caricature. Every family has its Ed’s in this day and age, reasonable people who lost their reason just at the moment when cynical media figures realized the political value in scaring such folks half to death.
Danner is likewise believable, real. Ronnie has let life get away from her and lets Ed be her unlikely and somewhat unstable lifeline.
I mean, the guy stops his pickup and runs into a field, weeping, when she sings along to “Muskrat Love” on the radio. DING DING DING — warning bell #16!
Writer-director Jones wrings what little he can out of this unlikely pairing in the real world, and then slaps “fable” onto it in the finale and hopes for the best. That feels inorganic and the picture, start to finish, has a touch of “padded” and “filler” about scenes and contrived situations, like their over-the-top Thanksgiving dinner with his “What happened to you, Dad?” son (Derek Cecil) and her constant conferring with Goth girl boutique manager Tina (Eve Harlow).
There’s a demographic niche desperate to be served that this movie is aimed at, and more’s the pity that it’s not better as there are so few filmmakers and studios willing to tell stories of this generation, for this generation.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and some suggestive material
Cast: John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Eve Harlow
Credits: Written and directed by Noble Jones. A Bleeker Street release.
Running time: 1:34