It’s rare to come across an entertaining romantic comedy about people in their 60s, and “The Tomorrow Man” brings this uncommon story to light — it just doesn’t do so well.
“The Tomorrow Man” was written, directed and shot by Noble Jones in his directorial debut for the big screen. The film is set in an undisclosed location and features a quaint, down-home aesthetic to match the vintage style and speed of its lead characters.
The film centers around Ed (John Lithgow), a man absorbed by his bland daily routine and good ol’ fashioned doomsday prepping. This hobby of Ed’s is where the film gets its name; he is consistently concerned with the unpredictable trials of the future rather than focusing on his life in the moment.
This is all hunky-dory until Ed sees a new woman at the grocery store — someone we come to know as Ronnie (Blythe Danner), a character who has dealt with the deaths of nearly all of her family members and has a bit of a hoarding problem.
Ed traverses the store time after time to flirt with the charming silver-haired woman. He’s traditional in his courting process and beyond. And yet, despite the mansplaining and dates at hardware stores, viewers can’t help but see the cuteness unfold in this elderly puppy love.
This attitude, however, is oftentimes displayed a little bit too emotionally to be believable. One scene in particular is so melodramatic that it’s hard to believe someone wrote it and thought it was a good idea. While Ed and Ronnie are driving home after a date, Ed pulls his truck over, hops out and runs straight into a field with absolutely no warning or clear reason. When Ronnie questions his action, he screams, “I really like you!” from the field as he continues to run away. The moment feels more than a little out of place and overly childish for Ed’s logically driven character. It makes sense that Jones wanted to show the inner child in Ed, but there are much less awkward ways to do so.
The movie is equally uncomfortable in terms of certain instances of racial insensitivity. It’s hard to even recall a person of color featured anywhere in the film. And one scene, set at the dinner table during Thanksgiving, is especially problematic.
When Ed takes Ronnie to the house of his son, Brian (Derek Cecil), for Thanksgiving, things turn sour in a number of dysfunctional ways. While sitting down for their meal, Ed’s granddaughter comments on the “exotic” nature of the basmati rice, a traditional Indian staple, at the table. She then asks why the family is eating “their,” presumably referring to Indians’, rice. Ed’s son says that the rice is now hers, using an uncomfortable tone that holds connotations of colonization to emphasize just how white the family truly is. While there’s a possibility that this exchange is framed to highlight the issues with it, such an angle isn’t done well or clearly enough to make any sort of progressive social statement.
In addition to advancing dangerous assumptions about cultural heritage, the film is lacking in its inclusion of fleshed-out characters. Brian has the least convincing character arc throughout the film. From the very beginning, it’s made known that Ed and Brian do not have the best relationship, as Brian considers Ed’s extreme prepping absurd. This plays out naturally until the conclusion of the film, when the two suddenly see eye to eye. Once Ed shows Brian the glories of his apocalypse storage room, their relationship is repaired and any differences settled. This moment is not given nearly enough lead-up, and it seems that Brian changes his opinion of his father with no real motivation.
While many aspects of “The Tomorrow Man” fall short, the cinematography is crisp and well-framed. And Jones’ additions of absurdity through plot twists when “shit hits the fan,” as Ed likes to say, add interesting dynamics to the film and make it easier to engage with.
Overall, “The Tomorrow Man” is a bit of a let-down. If it wasn’t for the immature writing, lack of diversity and nonsensical development, this might have been a really good movie.