February 11, 2010

Time Traveler's Wife

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): **½

It's interesting how well the time travel subgenre goes with romance (the equivalent of a ticking clock and a beating heart?), and equally interesting to note how many of them adopt the same soft, goopy look and tone, re: Somewhere in Time (1980), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), and The Lake House (2006).

The Time Traveler's Wife, recently released on DVD, was adapted from Audrey Niffenegger by Bruce Joel Rubin, who is perhaps better known for writing Ghost and Jacob's Ladder (both 1990). Ghost was another supernatural romance, but one that benefited from a fun, comic-relief supporting character (Whoopi Goldberg) as well as some steamy moments like the famous pottery wheel/Righteous Brothers sequence. Jacob's Ladder was a twisty, disconcerting nightmare that refused to stay narratively put.

It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that one or more of Rubin's earlier drafts of The Time Traveler's Wife might have been, by turns, funny, sexy or frighteningly twisty. It's also not too much of a stretch to guess that, as soon as Rachel McAdams was cast, the producers demanded not another Ghost, but another The Notebook, soft and goopy and requiring many hankies. However, there are remnants of other elements in The Time Traveler's Wife which indicate that there might once have been something more.

Eric Bana plays Henry, who will suddenly and occasionally travel through time. He never knows when this is going to happen, where he'll appear, or how long the trip will last, but he sticks to the high points of his own life. He cannot change anything in the past or in the future. When he arrives, he arrives naked, so he has perfected lock-picking skills to procure clothes. The movie doesn't explain this phenomenon, except to say that it's genetic.

Henry often meets Clare (McAdams) during his travels. He sees her at all different ages, and she falls in love with him. When they first meet as consenting adults, he has never seen her before, but she knows him well. He's a bit weirded out by her, but it must be destiny! The story gets more complicated as they marry and try to have children, and tragedy -- cruelly foreshadowed by Henry's time traveling -- lies waiting around every corner.

One of the best and warmest scenes unfolds as Henry disappears just as he's about to walk down the aisle at his own wedding. Fortunately, a nice situation presents itself. It's just too bad that the movie didn't take advantage of the scene to present its other side later down the timeline, but the movie, directed by Robert Schwentke (Flightplan), seems unconcerned with nerdy sci-fi stuff like time paradoxes or logic.

Ron Livingston (Office Space) plays Henry's best friend, who apparently has a bit of a thing for Clare, though this never goes anywhere. Henry's father (Arliss Howard) is shown to be deeply depressed and overly distraught in one scene, but is apparently cured for good after Henry's wedding. And character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day, Memento) shows up as a geneticist who studies Henry's problem, but aside from a couple of awkward meetings, nothing much happens.

On the plus side, cutting down on all these subplots and other details tightens the focus on the romance; it's a total immersion into the couple's life together. But while this may be enough for weepie junkies, and the idea is interesting, why not some occasional levity, or some rest breaks for the rest of us? Why not a little rhythm to go with this ticking clock?

The DVD from New Line comes with a bunch of trailers and a pretty standard-issue little making-of featurette (22 minutes), though I suppose it's nice to know that McAdams was a longtime fan of the book and was genuinely thrilled to be able to be in the movie.



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Posted by cphillips at February 11, 2010 4:13 PM
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