Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife (***)

Directed by Robert Schwentke


It's hard to have a plot as preposterous as The Time Traveler's Wife and continue to be sincere. Films have tried and failed to make romantic tear-jerkers involving robots, space, and whatnot, but the overall craziness makes it hard for any audience not to giggle in unintentional hilarity. I feel The Time Traveler's Wife manages to succeed where those other films didn't simply because its actors took the story seriously, and through genuine performances, created an effective film about love and what it means to be truly "in the moment".

Based on the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the story is about Henry TeDamble (Eric Bana). At the age of six, moments before a car accident took his mother's life, he became unstuck within the time-space continuum, and realized he could travel through time. As he grew older, he learns to accept his impairment, though he never becomes any less unnerved when he randomly disappears to view moments from his past and his future. Other than his father (Arliss Howard), there is no one who he can talk to about his affliction.

That is, until he meets Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) while working at the library. She gleams a smile at him and asks him to dinner, even though he doesn't even know her. Sitting with her, she tells him that she has known him since she was a little girl, and he came to visit her various times when he was much older. With her, Henry feels safe for one of the few times in his incredibly hectic life, and with little hesitation asks her to marry him--she accepts.

As Clare attempts to endure Henry's peculiar gene deformity, Henry begins to travel back and visit Clare when she's younger, as she said he had. Problems persist when the two try to have children, and a number of miscarriages occur when the fetus begins to time travel out of her uterus (yeah, you read that right). Of course, when they finally do have a daughter, she's a little time traveler as well. It creates a pleasantly poignant scene where Henry meets his daughter (Hailey McCann) before she has even been born.

Rather early in the film, the plot's erratic plausibility pushes the audience into a tight corner where they will either choose to accept the film or not. I don't know whether or not most people will walk away from this film, but I assume they won't. German filmmaker Robert Schwentke deals with the film's rather rapid plot points so delicately, that even the most ludicrous elements stand with feasibility. Perhaps it's strange that most of Henry's friends and loved ones seem so casual about his time traveling, but what would you do?

In a very difficult role, Eric Bana is able to create Henry from something deep inside. There are times when the Australian's American accent sounds a bit like a voice-over talent, but it's Bana that makes The Time Traveler's Wife so compelling. He seems to put a lot of trust in the film's story and the filmmakers behind it, and it adds to his performance which powers what may have otherwise been a very weak motion picture. *Interesting piece of trivia: Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston bought the movie rights to the book before it was even released. I would've been interesting to see that combination in this film.

Rachel McAdams, a young actress who I have great admiration for, was disappointingly stale in her role as the woman who tames the time traveler. She's been much better in lesser films. Other than the obvious, there are few things in the film that make The Time Traveler's Wife anything less than a potent romance with genuine tragedy. It will be discarded quickly by many as nothing more than a sappy, chick flick, and in a way, it is pandering toward an audience which would enjoy that kind of film. I can't help but think, though, about how difficult it is to tell this kind of story, and the fact that it is anything other than mediocre is an accomplishment onto itself.

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