September 19, 2011

When Am I? Marathon: The Time Traveler's Wife (Robert Schwentke)

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana tie the knot in The Time Traveler's Wife.

I hadn't really considered seeing The Time Traveler's Wife for several reasons. First of all, it was dismissed by most critics with either average or negative reviews. Also, I knew the novel was a major hit, but it seemed more like a mainstream romance than a sci-fi film. Largely due to the recommendation of my wife Erin (check out her great blog!), I decided to give it a chance during this time-travel marathon. Let's get to the questions before I find myself in a new place without my clothes!

Henry DeTemble (Eric Bana) is a time traveler who jumps around his life in disjointed fashion and always arrives without his clothes. This can be tricky, especially when it's cold outside. His leaps usually lead to Claire Abshire (Rachel MacAdams), who's mysteriously connected with his destiny. Henry first meets her as a young girl, and they eventually connect as adults and get married. Life with a time traveler is not always easy, and their relationship goes through some peaks and valleys. When hints arise about a sad future event, Henry looks for a way to avoid this unfortunate fate.

Time travel is a weird thing in The Time Traveler's Wife.

Henry doesn't need to hop in a Delorean or telephone booth to travel through time. He simply fades away and appears in another time period. The explanation for his ability is a genetic defect, and his father doesn't share this gift. It's not clear if there are others like him in the world, and Henry doesn't appear concerned with searching for them. The time travel plays an important role but is really a backdrop for the love story between Henry and Claire. The toughest part about the time travel is that it can take over at any time. He even disappears right before his wedding, which is quite a downside of his gift. Henry also must steal clothes after each jump, so that's not always an easy task. Of course, even if he's arrested for theft, he'll likely disappear anyway.

Henry and Claire are likable characters and live in an idealized world of true love and beautiful meadows. This is definitely not the same territory as The Butterfly Effect. I wouldn't mind spending time with them, even if his habit of disappearing at random times would become difficult. What if he was my ride home? Their best friends Charisse (Jane McLean) and Gomez (Ron Livingston) also seem nice and are surprisingly accepting of Henry's talents. The one exception is Claire's father Phillip (Philip Craig), a hunter and Republican who seems like a big idiot. Craig's also the only actor who chews scenery to take advantage of his brief appearance. That's rarely a good idea, especially in this understated, generally positive world.

Rachel McAdams looks at her wedding ring in The Time Traveler's Wife.

Nearly everything is shot with bright, colorful images that sell the enchantment. In most instances, it works pretty well. One example is the wedding scene, which seems primed for disaster but ends up being sweet thanks to some help from a future Henry. Of course, this happiness is undercut when he disappears on their wedding night. This couple has no luck! Another good moment is their first meeting as adults, where she obviously loves the guy but he doesn't know who she is. Henry is confused, but how can he resist such an attractive girl? There's not much silliness in this movie, but we do get one goofy scene with Henry fighting off a band of hoodlums after putting on women's clothes. I expect he can't be picky with his outfits, but these close-minded guys don't get it.

Unlike many time-travel films, this one doesn't spend much time explaining the specific time of each jump. Henry's leaping within Claire's lifetime, so it's typically from the early '80s to the present. The story takes place among the classic architecture and subways of Chicago, so those wouldn't change as much as some newer cities. Our main way to tell his age is the length of his hair, which shifts between near-mullet status and cleaner short hair. The latest versions of Henry also have some gray hair, but the rest of him looks the same. It is odd to see Bana say lines like "I look older to you" when the changes are so minor. The lack of focus on the details of the time travel fits with the overall approach from Director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) and Writer Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost). It's no coincidence that Rubin wrote Ghost, which also uses the supernatural elements as a backdrop for the love story.

Eric Bana meets his future wife at an early age in The Time Traveler's Wife.

As I've stated in earlier posts from this marathon, I'm willing to take the leap and accept some plot holes if the material is well-done. That's generally the case with this film, but I do have some questions about the logistics of the time travel. First of all, Henry and Clare meet when he arrives in the bushes while she's playing in her giant backyard. He already knows her at that point from their adult connection, but it's a first for her. This leads her to strike up their relationship as an adult when they meet at the library. So it's a circular pattern without a clear entry point.

How did it all start? My guess is that we're supposed to accept their connection as fate or driven by a supernatural force, but it's hard to turn off the brain completely. Later on, we learn that it might be possible for someone to control the time travel. Was his subconscious mind driving the leaps without his knowledge? Also, I wonder how Clare keeps the different versions of him straight. At one point, she's purposefully cheating on her husband with another version of him. I doubt the characters would read it that way, but it becomes a difficult proposition.

The Time Traveler's Wife is a suitable piece of mainstream cinema with likable characters, attractive cinematography, and an interesting premise. It takes a few chances but never goes much beyond offering a nice love story. Cynics shouldn't bother to check out this movie. When my brain started shifting into that mode, I forced myself to stay focused and just roll with it. The end result is mildly forgettable but still provides a pleasant experience.

Other Marathon Reviews

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Source Code
The Time Machine (1960)
Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

10 comments:

  1. I still think this movie is much better and much more complicated than you let on.

    Without including spoilers, every single decision in the entire movie (not just their first meeting) is informed by the future. The paradoxes aren't sloppy plot holes. All of them together are meant to tell us something about the larger story.

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  2. I agree that all their decisions are informed by the future, but where does it start? That was my point about it relating to fate or destiny. I'm not saying this is a flaw and even hurts the movie, but it's a question worth exploring. My point was that the writer and director aren't interested in this part of it, which is okay.

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  3. I can't believe I still haven't seen this considering how much I love Bana and I think Rachel is lovely. Thanks for the reminder, I should give this a rent soon.

    I look forward to your review of Somewhere in Time, that's one of my fave time-travel films!

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  4. No problem, Ruth. If you're a big fan of Somewhere in Time, you'll definitely find my review to be interesting.

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  5. Ehh this one had me bothered because the script was too dumb for it's own good and even as much as Bana and McAdams tried, their characters came off as just one-dimensional people here for an interesting premise that goes nowhere. Nice review Dan.

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  6. Dan, I had low expectations and found it better than I expected, actually. Have you read the book? I'm curious how the movie compares and whether the novel fills in any of the gaps. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. The book is pretty good. Recommended.

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  8. I highly recommend the book. Glad you liked this more than you expected, this is one of those movies that got dismissed by critics but was generally liked by audiences (a solid 7.1 on IMDb). As you stated, it's charming enough thanks to its leads but I thought it could have been so much better with a bolder, more creative director.

    I really loved the cinematography which is quite excellent throughout. I particularly liked all the camera motions such as the beginning/ending with young/older Clare running through the woods to that clearing.

    Nice work Dan!

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  9. Oh and the time traveling aspects of the film are quite off the beaten path and fascinating. The book elaborates a lot more on this, with Henri teaching his younger self survival skills to improve his own chance of surviving his ordeal.

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  10. Interesting about the time-travel aspects in the book. They hint at that with the one scene with Bana giving his younger self a blanket, but that's pretty much it. I wasn't planning to check out the book, but after hearing the praise from you and Joel, I might give it a shot. Thanks for the comments!

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