At The Picture Show
Stuck in 'Time'
'Time Traveler's Wife' adaptation does little to stir the mind or heart
The Time Traveler's Wife
New Line Cinema
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin, based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard, Jane
McLean and Michelle Nolden
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 47 minutes
Opened August 14, 2009
(out of four)
If you're going to do a movie about time travel, it's best to find someone(s) who
can think about it - not just utilize it as a device. The time traveling in The Time
Traveler's Wife serves a functional purpose, but it's certainly not interesting.
Except in the rare moments when either Clare (Rachel McAdams) or her time-travelin' husband Henry (Eric Bana) catch a glimpse into their future, the conflict
is no different from, say, having a husband who's constantly away on business.
In fact, so much of the film concerns itself
with the domestic trivialities and squabbles of a couple trying to make it that, as
often as not, the whole time-travel thing seems superfluous. When he disappears
and misses Christmas, would it be that much different if he was merely a traveling
salesman with a lousy schedule?
Naturally, there are inherent differences between Henry's curse - which he can't
control - and the issues that come between other couples. But director Robert
Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin never treat it as anything more than
just another obstacle that has to be dealt with. They never get to why the time-travel element is supposed to be interesting, or what it might mean.
At one point, Clare remarks about how "magical" it is. And that's just it. The film
stops right there. It's satisfied with simply being "magical," rather than feeling
compelled to dig into the impact Henry's gift/curse might have (beyond the
obvious), or the implications of it, or how it might affect the characters'
perceptions on love, chance, fate.
We learn that Clare has been "in love" with
Henry since she first met him - when he was well into his 30s and she was just a
little girl. She has been waiting to be with him for the rest of her life ever since
then. When you think about that, it might seem a bit unsettling, actually (though
the film hasn't the time to be bothered with any such issues).
The two meet several times as Clare grows up, always in the same open meadow
behind her house. By the time she's in her 20s, she knows full well how her
relationship with Henry will play out - how they'll meet, what conversations
they'll have. Sounds like a rather boring way to begin a relationship, with
everything pre-determined, but Clare is unfazed - after all, she's been attached to
this idea since she was a child. Why use becoming an adult as an excuse to grow
So little is left to the imagination that there's not much oomph to the relationship
between Clare and Henry. They're just acting out a story already told, making it
difficult for us to get involved in their lives. There's too little mystery and too
little at stake.
One late development is especially problematic. A certain moment around the
beginning of the third act foretells a certain fate for one character. For the events
in question to play out quite the way they do, Henry will have had to travel in time
to two separate moments in succession - which I suppose is possible, given the
premise, but which certainly isn't within the normal rules set up by the rest of the
film. It's lazy screenwriting.
It might be easy to call the entire movie
lazy, but the bigger problem is its thoughtlessness. The filmmakers seem
decidedly uninterested in exploring anything beyond the letter of the plot.
The Time Traveler's Wife is also curiously linear for a film about time travel;
perhaps it could have used a different structural and stylistic approach, so that we
could experience the mysteries of the story in a more visceral and sensual way.
I know this film has an audience, in part because it's a weepy romance, and in part
because it's based on a popular novel. I dated a woman who at the time was
reading the book avidly, but she wasn't much for movies. This one certainly
wouldn't convince her otherwise.
Read more by Chris Bellamy