Movie review: 'The Lightkeepers' filled with sexism, hammy acting

Jay N. Miller

If you love sexism and ol’ Cape Cod, let “The Lightkeepers” shine its low-wattage beacon on you. All others would be wise to steer clear of this misogynistic land of hammy acting featuring Richard Dreyfuss as a potbellied Popeye grumbling endlessly about how much he hates the Olive Oyls of the world.

Even the mere mention of the female sex shivers the creaky timbers of Dreyfuss’ cantankerous Seth Atkins, an old salt who has little use for people in general and women in particular.

If it weren’t for his need for shut-eye and those confounded maritime rules, he would surely run his lighthouse on Nantucket Sound blissfully alone. But that doesn’t stop him from sharing his modest quarters grudgingly.

In fact, he’s such an ornery cuss, it’s little wonder that his assistants rarely last more than a few weeks. His latest, a foppish Brit going by the suspicious moniker of John Brown (Keanu Reeves look-alike Tom Wisdom), is about to change all that.

After literally washing up on the shore, John immediately ingratiates himself with Seth by vowing to swear off women for as long as he’s living under the keeper’s roof. And for a few weeks, things go well.

Then writer-director Daniel Adams throws them a predictable loop by sending in Blythe Danner and Mamie Gummer (sharing Meryl Streep’s DNA, but not her talent) to shake things up as their new neighbors.

It’s a convenient coincidence that Danner and Gummer are roughly the same age as their male counterparts. But that’s hardly the only coincidence in a movie full of them, including a real humdinger that Adams waits until late in the second act to reveal – but to little surprise.

Far be it for me to disclose that ridiculous nugget because you’ll figure it out soon enough on your own. It’s almost as obvious as where the chaste flirting between John and Gummer’s aristocratic artist in waiting, Ruth, is headed.

Oh, did I mention that these romantic machinations are taking place in 1912, mere months after the Titanic went down? Apparently, Adams was out to create an even bigger disaster. And for the most part, he succeeds.

Dreyfuss, who also takes a producer credit, lends him plenty of support with a performance that would seem better suited to Broadway given his insistence on always playing to the back row.

Yet, there’s a charm to him that makes Seth far more tolerable than you’d expect. There’s also something oddly endearing about the quaintness of a production that still values wholesomeness.

But any good graces Dreyfuss and the film achieve are overshadowed by a script so sexist, even Neanderthals would be shocked. Seldom is a moment wasted in reminding us that 1912 was a pre-suffrage era when men were men and women were meant to “obey.”

How a liberated woman like Danner (and a terrific actor to boot) could utter such backward dialogue as that, not to mention fawning over a short tub of goo like Seth, defies explanation.

Yet, beyond the languid storytelling and rampant scenery chewing, there’s no denying “The Lightkeepers” is beautiful to look at, capturing the Cape’s splendor in a most reverent way.

From brilliant hued sunrises and sunsets, to the graceful ripples of the dunes, the film is a feast for the eyes. Adams also does a fine job of capturing the time and place, complete with horseless buggies and clunky swimming costumes that leave everything to the imagination.

That alone tells you that Adams means well, but good intentions aren’t nearly enough to keep “The Lightkeepers” from getting lost in a fog of archaic ideas.

Patriot Ledger writer Al Alexander may be reached at

THE LIGHTKEEPERS (PG for mild thematic elements, brief language and smoking.) Cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Wisdom, Blythe Danner and Mimie Gummer. Written and directed by Daniel Adams. 2 stars out of 4.