I have not read Audrey Niffenegger's novel and I do not have any plans to do so. That said, I was sort of looking forward to this movie, although I did have some reservations. Sure, it is a stereotypical "chick flick," but that is a tag I have never really bought into. It certainly makes for easy shorthand when talking about movies, but a good movie will transcend such labels. With The Time Traveler's Wife (which I keep wanting to call The Astronaut's Wife), I am sad to report that while it certainly had some interesting ideas and moments, it fails to come together in any meaningful way, leaving this viewer oddly detached from a story that seems designed to draw you in.
I am definitely intrigued by the introduction of science fiction elements to the romance or so-called "chick flick" base. In this case it is time travel. This is usually something left to Star Trek and Terminator, however in this case it is the element on which an epic romance that lasts through the ages is built. Going in, I was hoping for an experience similar to The Lake House. In that film, there is a romance that involves a supernatural time shift based in a mailbox. The film proves that a high concept romance can work in wonderful fashion. The Lake House did not allow itself to get bogged down in the minutiae of the hows and whys such a thing happens, it just flows so naturally that we scarcely think about it until it is all over. This film doesn't quite take that route.
The Time Traveler's Wife tells of Henry (Eric Bana), a man afflicted with a problem called Chrono-Impairment, a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time; as he says, "It can be a problem." No kidding. He randomly jumps through time, arriving naked wherever he goes, which necessitates that he rob the nearest location for some clothing. Some of his jumps take him back to big moments, like the death of his mother. Another jump takes him back in time to where he meets young Claire (Rachel McAdams, though not her when Claire is young) in a pleasant meadow outside of her home. He introduces himself and says that they are friends when she is grown up. At this moment, the young girl sees her future with this grown stranger.
Jump ahead to said future and we see a grown Claire meet Henry, who works in a library. She introduces herself, although he has no idea who she is, not having jumped back into her life yet (don't think too hard, it will only give you a headache). Anyway, a romance interrupted ensues and we see them grow together, get married, and live a troubled life. It may be one filled with happiness, but as with all things, problems creep in. For Claire and Henry, we get the unique problem of him leaving for another time.
The idea of spontaneously jumping through time is an interesting one. The concept offers much in the way of story possibilities assuming, of course, that this brand of time travel comes complete with a static timeline, unlike, say, the one of Back to the Future where the present can be changed drastically by events in the past. Henry does say at one point things that happen will happen despite anything he tries to do in the past to change them, which indicates a static timeline.
What? Hold on a minute, if that were true then Henry and Claire were going to meet and fall in love regardless of him meeting her as a young girl? He did not need to borderline invade the young girl's mind at a tender young age? Then what was the point of their meetings in the meadow? Like I said, if you think about it too hard, you will surely give yourself a headache.
All right, let's just accept that what happens will happen regardless. Does their romance deliver? I really want to say it does, but it falls short. They are shot lovingly by director Robert Schwentke, but the actual chemistry between the two leads is pretty low. It looked like they were told how to react and did that rather than simply reacting to each other. It made for a relationship that did not connect with me.
Despite the lack of any real emotional involvement, I still found myself enjoying the film. This is mainly due to the time travel aspect, the comedic situations it brought up, the potential paradoxes it causes, and the interesting way in which the relationship is built. Not to mention the ability to disappear on your wedding day and have an older version of you jump in and take your own place being a pretty fun little idea.
There is another element that has bothered about this film me ever since the first trailer arrived, and even after seeing the movie it has not cleared up. That is the creepy factor. Seriously, there is really something creepy about this movie and the dawn of the romance, not to mention the continuing nature of it. We are supposed to believe that a young girl's fondest wish is to meet the man of her dreams and grow up to marry him and live happily ever after. This is what happens to Claire, she is never given the opportunity to find this man. He pretty much just appears out of thin air, announces himself, and forever seals this girls romantic future. Beyond that, it is really creepy the way he talks to her. It is all in the trailer, just think about how you would feel if a forty-something guy talked to your daughter in something approaching a romantic way like that.
There were moments in the film where the relationship threatened to get interesting, but they chose to keep the fantasy and bittersweet romance alive rather than making the piece more real. For example, when Claire is upset about Henry's disappearances, delving more deeply into that could have proved exceedingly interesting. Another opportunity is the entire pregnancy aspect, as soon as it threatened the romance with a truer reality, we had to move along.
Despite everything, I did still enjoy the film. The idea is interesting and there is decent execution to it. The lead actors are individually fine, but weak when taken together. It has a unique blend of the interesting and the creepy, with a good dose of faux-emotion — it's almost enough to really pull it off.