The Time Traveler's Wife
2009, PG-13, 107 min. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston, Brooklynn Proulx, Stephen Tobolowsky, Hailey McCann, Tatum McCann.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 21, 2009
Along with the usual business about adult themes, mild language, and light nudity (see: the oft-exposed derriere of lead Bana), the makers of The Time Traveler’s Wife might have affixed another warning to this handsomely made adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s hugely popular 2003 novel: “Caution: Contents may induce brain bleed.” That is, if you think too hard on the logic and mechanics of its time-travel conceit (and if director Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin did, the fruits of their labor certainly aren’t up on the screen). Case in point: When the time traveler, Henry (Bana), and his wife, Clare (McAdams), duck into an appliance shop and she reminds dearie that TVs tend to trigger his frequent and uncontrollable flights through the time/space continuum, it’s all one can do not to puddle into sniggering at this newly introduced wrinkle, which comes off like some spectacular afterthought on the part of the filmmakers. Merriam-Webster defines “afterthought” as “an idea occurring later; something (as a part or feature) not thought of originally: something secondary.” The curious thing about The Time Traveler’s Wife, which bears some resemblance to last year’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is that there is no primary here: Everything feels secondary in this oddly uneventful film. Henry is a man out of time, helpless to a genetic disorder that hurtles him naked and unwilling to different destination spots in his own timeline: There he is at 29, on the Chicago El, playing the stranger in a casual conversation with the mother he lost when he was 5; there he is at 39, picnicking in a meadow with 6-year-old Clare (Proulx). (If you’re tripping over the math, you might as well check out now: That’s long division compared to the third act’s advanced calculus.) The film’s hashed timeline means there’s no hard beginning or end to Henry and Clare’s love affair, just one endless middle, which is both the beauty and the bust of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Time travels fast, and it turns out to be monumentally unmonumental. For Henry and Clare, it’s life’s little landmarks that whiz by – first date, dinner with friends, a first dance as husband and wife (tuned to a crap cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again,” in the film’s only spot of gallows humor) – and these episodes are involving insofar as the actors portraying them are innately charismatic and comfortable as cardigans in their roles, doing the emotionally inking-in where the film only sketches, both dramatically and philosophically. (They’re better than this, the pair of them: McAdams, frustratingly, has not yet found a character as dazzlingly well-suited to her talents as was her breakout role in The Notebook, and after Bana’s recent co-starring turn in Funny People – so light! so lippy! – it’s a downer to see him saddled once again with dour dramatics.) There’s no epicness here, and no real tragedy, either. Everybody dies; so what if the time traveler knows his expiration date in advance? His sorrow is no less surprising, and no less significant, than that of any terminal patient. Instead, what The Time Traveler’s Wife amounts to – slowly, even stealthily – is a thin, tender album, photos all a-jumble, detailing the day-to-day heroics of surviving, and even enjoying, domestic partnership.