The filming of "The Tomorrow Man" got a lot of attention locally when cast and crew arrived to shoot here for about six weeks in August and September of 2017. Brought to the area thanks to New York State tax incentives and the work of the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film Commission, the production had a bit of additional intrigue due to the presence of big-name actors John Lithgow (who coincidentally was born in the area, though never lived here) and Blythe Danner headlining the otherwise small, independent production.
At the time, local media was abuzz, publishing photos of Lithgow on location, and crews were spotted in a few towns around the greater Rochester area, from Brighton and Gates in Monroe County to Lyons in Wayne County.
Timelines of film production being what they are, it would be some time before we'd get to see the results of those efforts. But the film finally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, and began its roll out to theaters last month before finally reaching Rochester this week.
Music-video director Noble Jones writes and directs what turns out to be a sweet story about two lonely souls in search of a connection. Lithgow plays Ed, a doomsday prepper who spends his days obsessively stocking his fallout shelter in anticipation of an end-of-the-world scenario that may never come. When he's not haranguing his son (Derek Cecil) over the phone for not following his lead, he's dispensing his wisdom via online message boards.
One day Ed sees Ronnie (Danner) at the local market and mistakes her deliberate shopping methods -- frequent trips to the store, selective buying, always paying in cash -- for signs that she's a fellow "prepper." She's not, but does have a secret of her own, though it's revealed late enough in the movie that mentioning it feels like a spoiler.
Suffice it to say that each of them have their own unique ways of maintaining control in a world that appears to be steadily careening toward chaos. By his own admission, Ed's preparations are a "safety blanket." He and Ronnie are each eager to escape some pain of their past, while possessing an often debilitating fear of the future. But together they might find a more manageable present. Their gradually-revealed backgrounds add a bit of intrigue to what's at heart a fairly straightforward late-in-life romance between two lonely, misunderstood people.
Veteran actors Lithgow and Danner are lovely together, investing their slightly eccentric characters with an innate sweetness and humanity. They are let down slightly by the script, which can at time be too self-consciously quirky. The scenes involving Ed and his strained relationship with his son's family, including a daughter-in-law (Katie Aselton), and teenage grandchild (Sophie Thatcher) who are more than a bit wary of him, are somewhat stilted.
The inherent creep factor of Ed's initial advances to Ronnie are admittedly off-putting: intentionally blocking in her car in the supermarket parking lot in order to start up a conversation, and following her and repeatedly engaging with her when she clearly has no interest. And without saying too much, the film's ending is a bold choice -- one that seems bound to divide audiences.
But the chemistry between the two stars helps maintain the film's idiosyncratic charm. And with movie romances being such a young person's game, it's always nice to get the rare love story aimed at the over-60 set.
Rochester seems to be standing in for any anonymous, rural, small-town America, and this production uses its local farmland and country settings to great effect. Jones acted as his own director of photography, and the film has a lovely, rustic look to it. Though I will say, it's hard not to notice that while a portion of the film takes place during Thanksgiving, the locations are clearly displaying their summer greenery. It is a kick though, to see the city's skyline behind the anchorwoman on the TV news broadcasts that Ed watches (and occasionally believes to be addressing him directly).
The production of "The Tomorrow Man" employed a number of local crew members in behind-the-camera roles, from casting to extras, catering to camera operators, and it's a treat to see their efforts up there on screen. With the success of this production, I sincerely hope this leads to more major film projects utilizing the area. Considering Rochester's active filmmaking community and wealth of behind-the-scenes talent, it surely won't be long before more come to take advantage of everything the region has to offer.