The Time Traveler’s Wife
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams
The Time Traveler’s Wife says something interesting about love. It says that the reality of love, you and that other person, working, is less important than the grand cosmic ideal of love that drives you to put up with the misery. Romantic? You’ll like this film. Horse crap? Go see Harry Potter.
The Time Traveler’s Wife does not have a single, straightforward story, in the sense of “Luke’s gotta deliver those plans,” or “Joseph Cotton is all, ‘Rosebud? What’s up with that?’” or “Captain Kirk was a great hero who died, and then Eric Bana got mad at Spock so he went back in time and killed Kirk’s dad, so there’s a new Kirk who is a badass outsider who’s gotta get his groove back, and Uhura is now twice as hot and totally doing that creep from ‘Heroes.’” You know, coherent, linear narratives.
It’s a romantic drama, produced by Brad Pitt from a prose story, about a guy who doesn’t live his life in the normal chronological order, and the burdens this places on his ability to build a meaningful relationship. But wait, you protest, that was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which came out a pretty, sprawling, mawkish mess, and there he had F. Scott freakin’ Fitzgerald to work with. Why would he do that again with some pop best-seller? Because Brad Pitt laughs at danger—that’s why, you sissy.
This film hangs together better, and isn’t insanely over-long, but like Button, it has trouble pulling the unusual life of its main couple into a solid, directed plot. There’s a good section in the middle where you wonder why the story is going absolutely nowhere, and then they start throwing in the ups and downs of marriage—butt with a time-travel twist!
Saving the script’s failure to truly gel are a pair of well-crafted characters, very well realized by Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. (During that dragging midsection, entertain yourself by trying to figure out which more famous actress McAdams looks like … Nnno, not Selma Blair … wonder if it’s Milla Jovovich, and then remember that Milla Jovovich isn’t technically “famous.”) And the director, one Robert Schwentke, really does a nice job with the camera.
So Bana has an unexplained “genetic anomaly” that makes him jump randomly through time, putting a strain on his romantic relationship. (Do you remember Journeyman, ran on NBC for half a season a couple years ago? It was like this. I really liked that show.) He and McAdams enjoy a deep, true and destined love that is not lived entirely in chronological order, and they must reconcile the sense of a great and inescapable love with the trials of his risky disappearances and other side effects of his “condition.” They suffer victory and defeat, and the only resolution the movie seeks is to decide whether, in the end, it was all worth it. (Hint: Movie is based on a best-selling novel beloved by book clubs nationwide.)
Among the very nice touches, the film doesn’t get bogged down in the mechanics of time travel at all. Why and how? Who really cares—it’s not like time travel really happens, anyway. The film sets up the premise and its basic rules, then tells a story about people. Also, very little time is wasted on supporting characters freaking out. As in Ponyo, also opening this week, it’s refreshing that no one has to lie about their weird shit, and their loved ones can just be supportive. Cuts a lot of needless “Three’s Company” clutter that way.
There are also small, beautiful scenes, such as a time-displaced Bana meeting the mother he lost as a child. Moments like this, and the skill of the actors, make us overlook a dragging midsection and the sense that the story isn’t entirely adding up to a story.
One could relate McAdams’ situation, waiting for her ever-vanishing husband’s safe return, to that of the spouse of a cop or firefighter who is called away at odd moments to rush into potentially fatal danger. But the unique nature of their sequentially rearranged relationship inserts an element of destiny. Their future is already shaped before their first date, and questions of free will are lightly touched on. When they have problems, they have a crutch—they literally know they are meant for each other. If one comes away with anything, it’s the not so original idea that Love, capital L, is a big and grand thing and that when we suffer over the details, we suffer for something grand, because These Two People were, you know, Destined to Be Together. Your ability to enjoy the film beyond its obvious craft will hinge heavily on how much that idea makes you feel all warm inside.