Screenwriters: Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Hailey McCann, Stephen Tobolowsky, Alex Ferris
Running time: 107 mins
Most people can relate to being stood up or left hanging, waiting for that special someone to call... Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling novel The Time Traveller's Wife takes that experience to another level by giving the errant husband a real whopper of an excuse i.e. Sorry, darling, I was on my way to meet you when I accidentally fell through the fabric of time and space. On the page, that might be easier to swallow because Niffenegger has the luxury of time to spend with her characters, but on screen, the couple (played by Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams) remain elusive.
Contrary to what the title suggests, it is Henry, the husband, who gets most of the screen time. We see him drop in on his younger self (Alex Ferris) at the moment his mother is killed in a road crash, which prompts his first quantum leap. Unlike other time travel flicks there is no rhyme or reason to these jaunts. They are the result of an involuntary spasm that leave him helpless in random places in recent history or the near future. It may last a few seconds, or a few weeks. Meanwhile, his darling Clare is left to wonder when, or if, he's coming back. The irony is that most of this off-time is spent visiting her, in childhood, in a dreamlike summer meadow.
As time gets tangled, so does the script (by Ghost scribe Bruce Joel Rubin). The supposed first meeting sees Henry in his 30s, baffled when Clare approaches him, aware of his secret. But look hard enough and there are loopholes of logic here. Still, that's not the fatal flaw. Credibility is strained because Rubin and director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) get so caught up trying to thread the timelines together they let the emotional core of the story whiz past in a blur of marital spats. The couple struggle to conceive and, after glimpsing the future, what Henry reports only makes Clare more resentful. In turn he seeks solace in her younger, idealistic self, prompting the most revealing moment of the film: Clare rebukes Henry for stealing her heart as a little girl and forcing her to endure the subsequent misery of his long absences. It's a bombshell, but it goes by with a whimper.
The idea of loss and heartache being an act of free will - whether to suffer or impose it - is where all the romance of the story is lurking. But Schwentke fails to draw it out. Any intrigue created by the couple's unique dilemma quickly dissipates because the characters lack depth and because they (and the filmmakers) sap the allure out of time travel. No amount of soft-lighting and mood music can help when the miracle is reduced to a banal biological quirk on a par with sleepwalking. Bana and McAdams are both talented actors and they make an engaging couple, but the script doesn't offer them any real sense of who these people are. Clare, despite having the title role, is especially vague as a character, merely there for Henry to bounce off. As a result, the ending is nowhere near as moving as it should be. In fact it's as powerful as a time-machine made Blue Peter-style out of cardboard and empty bottles.
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