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Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

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The Time Traveler's Wife is a tale of timeless love. In this rendition of that classic paradigm, our two star-crossed lovebirds appear in the form of Clare Abshire, played by perennial star-crossed lovebird Rachel McAdams, and Henry DeTamble, performed by versatile Aussie Eric Bana. The time: Modern day. The place: Chicago.

As with all lovers drawn together by the hands of fate, some outside force must arise to hold these two oppositely-charged magnets apart. The particular immovable object here is disease, specifically a genetic disorder that causes Bana's character to literally disappear from the here and now and reappear elsewhere on the space-time continuum, sans clothing.

It's a good idea really, and plenty could be done with it. Too bad the execution is so lame. The dialogue is lifeless, the characters are cardboard, and the direction is consistently off-kilter. Director Robert Schwentke either absently applies shots from from the rom-dram director's playbook, or tackles the material freestyle, as in style-free. The result is a state of emotional monochrome through out.

Bana and McAdams hold their own despite the script's limitations, but some of the other actors don't fare so well, in particular Ron Livingston as McAdams platonic best friend, who pops up here and there as the voice of reason amidst passion's chaos. Instead of being the factor of steadiness and humor he was written to be (however poorly), he comes off simply as a moralizing doofus.

There's some unintentional hilarity, too. Bana's DeTamble, after making a leap in time, creeps around naked in the bushes peeping on a six-year-old Abshire. He makes her bring him a blanket, and then he emerges with matted hair and bloodshot eyes, and proceeds to romance her. It's meant to be very sweet, but like I say, all the scenes are ill-directed. And the little actress that plays her is just awful. Almost all of the child actors in this movie suck in that way that only child actors can. In another scene, Henry is prancing around outside a Pavement (yah!) show in women's clothing, pounding on some man's face. "Goddamn homophobe!" he screams in rage. Perhaps the book (by Audrey Niffenegger) struck a more wistful tone, and these scenes were not treated with such gravity, I don't know. But it doesn't work here.

Speaking of gravity, that's the explanation given to the logic of where and when he appears in time. He is pulled by a "gravitational force" to events that are emotionally significant for him. For example, he appears over and over again at the death of his mother by car crash. *Spoiler warning for the rest of this paragraph. Skip to the next paragraph to avoid. As described, he appears like an apparition to plant the proverbial seed of love in Clare Abshire as a little girl, and even after his death he appears to his own daughter on a school outing to offer comfort and wisdom. There's a lot of potential here to probe the emotional depths. The relationship that forms between the two time traveling members of the family — without the knowledge of the time-static Clare, and her subsequent feelings of being left out; or the infidelity of Claire as she cheats on Henry with a younger version of himself because the married Henry has gotten a vasectomy, an interesting statement on the inevitable decline of a man's virility. It's all fertile soil for drama, but nothing gets fleshed out. The scenes just keep coming without any reflection. As for the metaphysical can of worms that arises from the notion of multiple Eric Banas running around, these sorts of issues are sidestepped. Which is okay because you don't really miss them.

So are these two lovers meant to? Is there pairing an inevitability of fate? And is the end of love at the hands of death equally inevitable? Read the book and find out.

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About Ted

  • I know this sounds so trite but the book was excellent. I remember reading it and thinking that I hoped Hollywood wouldn’t attempt to churn it up and spit it back out as a movie. Alas, good ol’ movie industry, they never disappoint (in matters of money anyway). Thanks for the review.

  • Ann

    Your review definitely reveals that you haven’t read the book, since you have misstated the original written intent of pretty much every scene you mention here. So it makes for a strange review, sorry to say. Maybe the movie is truly bad. It certainly did not convey the story to you, or you did not catch it *at all*, one or the other. I would prefer movie reviews of books-turned-into-movies to include some adequate understanding of the original story, in order to really evaluate the movie version. I am sure I will see it anyway, the book was fantastic and deeply moving.

  • Ted

    Ann, I was reviewing the movie not the book. For book reviews check out the book section. However, if the dialogue was lifted directly from the original text, then that means Niffenegger sucks at writing it.

  • Nemo

    Don’t worry, Ted: Ms. Niffenegger sucks at writing pretty much everything else in this crude, pretentious, misogynistic book, too.

  • Beans

    Yes, I agree. The writing in the book is the worst I’ve ever read – hugely pretentious and cringeworthy. Steer well clear of it.

  • lynn

    Read the book and loved it. Don’t like the film though..didn’t capture anything impt.
    nice review of the book!