There is something visually astounding about Noble Jones’s directorial debut, The Tomorrow Man, a story about two people in their twilight years finding one another.
Noble, who also wrote The Tomorrow Man, served as his own cinematographer, allowing him to stage not only his actors, but also the intimate details that make up their lives. The Tomorrow Man is first a love story. John Lithgow is Ed, the town curmudgeon who lives his life in an orderly fashion. Everything is neat and tidy. He pays for his groceries by check and he has a contentious, one-sided relationship with his son, Brian (Derek Cecil).
Ed is intentionally all about preparing for the future.
Noble deliberately painted Ed’s existence as a nomad and Lithgow relishes in the opportunity to use his dry, deadpan humor much to the character’s benefit. Lithgow is naturally funny in a charismatic way, managing to flirt with the camera while at the same time he uses that humor to draw us in to the drama.
On one of Ed’s shopping excursions, he encounters Ronnie (Blythe Danner). Ronnie is in her own little world when we first meet her: excitable, yet calm in demeanor. Ed, who is reserved and cautious, doesn’t immediately make a move, but with Noble’s attention to detail, you can pick up the nuances of Ed’s interest in Robbie through Lithgow’s performance.
It is on their second encounter where Ed finally and awkwardly courts Ronnie, who looks as if she’s been shocked awake from a deep slumber. As Ed wedges his way into her life, we find that they have a lot more in common than either realized. Danner’s performance nearly rivals Lithgow’s as her character’s life unfolds.
Noble uses his visual style to tell The Tomorrow Man‘s story of love, of understanding and of trust. His use of the camera is something that I haven’t seen in quite some time, and in fact, it becomes a character in its own story flowing and transitioning between Ed’s life and Ronnie’s life.
In The Tomorrow Man, the camera ebbs and flows so very well that it actually slows down the pace of the film. What is intended to be transcendent gets stuck in the second act as Ed takes Ronnie to Thanksgiving dinner at Brian’s home. Until this point, Brian has been a voice only on the phone, a periphery in Ed’s world. Noble tries to quickly establish just how alike father and son are, but the way the scenes are staged, he can’t use the camera to make this work.
This might have been deliberate as he uses the dinner to transition us into the third act, something that involves Brian significantly more than in the earlier part of the story; we are introduced to Janet (Katie Aselton) and Tina (Eve Harlow), Brian’s wife and stepdaughter. Ronnie and Janet hit it off right away. Tina, however, has words for her stepfather and the scene ends on a shot of father and son standing next to one another.
The Tomorrow Man‘s third act really brings Ed and Ronnie together, first through struggles in each of the respective characters’ lives and then, a common understanding. Noble’s attention to detail shines here the most as he brings Ed and Ronnie full circle.
John Lithgow and Blythe Danner are dynamite, both together and separately. Their emotions shine. Noble’s attention to detail in The Tomorrow Man and his use of the camera are characters themselves, but the style he used to tell the story ground the pacing to a halt.
The Tomorrow Man is definitely a showcase for talents. I am curious to see where Noble Jones goes from here because he has a unique way of storytelling that with more maturity can shine. For now, The Tomorrow Man is an actor’s showcase and for me, that counts as a win.
Playing in theaters nationwide, The Tomorrow Man is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.