The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) / Romance-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality
Running time: 107 min.
Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brooklynn Proulx, Hailey McCann, Tatum McCann
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin (based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger)
Eric Bana (Star Trek, The Other Boleyn Girl) stars as Henry DeTamble, a research librarian in Chicago born with a strange and very rare genetic disorder that causes him to suddenly move forward or backward in time during moments of emotion or stress. Despite his bizarre condition,, Henry tries his best to make a relationship work when he meets Clare Abshire (McAdams, State of Play) as a young woman, and she has already met him when she was a young child. The two fall in love as adults, but find their love straining from the transient nature of Henry's affliction.
Based on Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling book, The Time Traveler's Wife, as a movie, faces the same dilemma as many others of its ilk, by having a difficult time allowing for subtle romantic nuance when the main gimmick and how it all works takes center stage. When you, as viewers, spend more time trying to figure out the time travel's significance and how it all works, there's not much time to reflect on the potential tragedy of the relationship torn asunder by Henry's constant absences. We never get rooted enough in the actual characters to care about their plight.
What should have felt magical and beautiful ends up being more a distraction. We would like to explore the nature of time travel, but no rational explanation is given as to how or why such a genetic defect could occur, and even the main character doesn't seem to find it particularly interesting to explore the parameters of. His main exploration of the "curse" is how he's going to find clothes after the trip, as he arrives in his birthday suit wherever (and whenever) he lands. We also want to get caught up in the whirlwind romance, but the characters themselves, despite having an obviously unique predicament, seem fairly average, and their romance, even when times are good, is nothing to sing in the hill from.
The Time Traveler's Wife runs a bit like another fatalistic time-gimmick romance, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but lacks the sweep of that Oscar-nominated film's vision, philosophy or the artistic flourishes to keep the story together even when the love story within it comes and goes. This is a fairly standard story of two people who meet and fall in love, except that one character meets the other at various points in her life. The most artistic flourish in the film is the fractured vision of Henry constantly framed in the reflections of mirrors throughout the movie.
The time-travel angle raises plenty of questions, but rarely answers any of them. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. We first see Henry as a child who, after his mother dies in a car crash he escapes from, meets his older self who explains to him all about his abilities. Flash forward to Henry's later life as a research librarian and he seems genuinely befuddled as he meets Clare, who seems to know him even though they've just met. A little later, Henry travels back in time and sees his mother in earlier days alive again. Does he try to warn her to try to avoid her tragic fate? No. perhaps he can't, but the film never establishes the rules of the time travel, so we can only wonder.
Romantics-at-heart will likely fall in love with the idea of the gimmick and the hurdles it causes in the relationship enough to think that The Time Traveler's Wife is good fodder for sparking that fond yearning feeling for love stories that traverse time and space. No doubt many in this audience will have already read the book and can fill in the blanks in Bruce Joel Rubin's (Deep Impact, The Last Mimzy) adaptation to enjoy as a complete experience. For the rest of us, the essence of a mystical romance will not likely be enough, as we witness life, death, love and anguish displayed before our eyes at regular intervals and all we can think about once it's all over is how the time travel could have been used to help the romance rather than hinder it.
Unless you're aching to see Eric Bana's bare backside every fifteen minutes or so, or are just a sucker for tearjerkers of any variety, The Time Traveler's Wife serves up glossy, vacuous entertainment when it should have had some real soul and depth in its tale of time-crossed lovers trying to squeeze out every ounce of love with the little time they have together.
©2010 Vince Leo