“THE TOMORROW MAN” — 3 stars — John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil; PG-13 (brief strong language and some suggestive material); in general release; running time: 94 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re in the mood for a quiet and quirky love story with an ending that will be a slam dunk for half the audience and ruin the evening for the other 50 percent, “The Tomorrow Man” is just your ticket this weekend.
Set in a humble town in Middle America, Noble Jones’ film, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a doomsday prepper who thinks he’s found the perfect companion to face the end of the world with.
Ed (John Lithgow) is about seven years removed from a severance package you sense was not the result of inevitable layoffs. When he’s not chatting online with other conspiracy theorists or having lengthy phone conversations nagging his son Brian (Derek Cecil) about how the system is due for collapse, Ed is taking trips to the local grocery to boost the emergency food storage he’s stockpiling in a hidden room in his house.
On one such trip, Ed spots a woman named Ronnie (Blythe Danner) a couple places ahead of him in line. She’s buying curious products and paying with cash, so obviously she’s a kindred survivalist, right?
Slowly but surely, Ed begins to woo Ronnie in a sequence that falls somewhere between cute and creepy. But finally the two wallflowers break the romantic ice and make their way into a pensive relationship.
Ronnie is a quiet personality, but that seems to come from the lot life has given her. Her only daughter — her “whole world” as she puts it — passed away, and now she spends most of her days working at a local shop. But she senses an opportunity in Ed, and they move forward.
Ed’s constant references to the doomsday to come are a little strange, but what Ronnie doesn’t know is that Ed is also rationing his medication, which may explain why the local newswoman always seems to be talking directly to him through his television. But of course, Ronnie has a secret of her own, too.
To call “Tomorrow Man” low key is an understatement, and it’s light years from the tone and energy of your usual romantic comedy. We’re definitely in indie territory here. Still, a lot of the usual beats are there. Ed and Ronnie eventually run into that traditional rocky patch that puts a happy ending in doubt, and since they’re both getting on in years, the “meet the parents” moment is more of a “meet Ed’s son and his rebellious daughter” moment.
“Tomorrow Man” is best described as an acquired taste, really — and even within its oddball parameters, it could still use a shot of adrenaline here and there. But most viewers will agree that Lithgow and Danner really carry the film, giving their weirdo characters the kind of necessary weight and gravity most actors couldn’t provide.
Then, of course, there’s that ending. It might not be worth the price of admission on its own, but it certainly got a smile from one viewer.
Rating explained: “The Tomorrow Man” is rated PG-13 for adult situations and some mostly discreet sexual content, in addition to profanity (including one scene which uses the F-word about three times).