14 September 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Bruce Joel Rubin
Full credits at IMDb

The first rule of pretty much every time travel narrative is that you can’t interact with yourself. The Time Traveler’s Wife violates that fiat in the very first scene, forcing audiences to concede that the rules of time travel are arbitrary—which is good, as the movie’s own rules seem not only arbitrary but perfunctory. In that first scene, a grown man comforts the ten-year-old version of himself following a car crash and the space-time fabric doesn’t fall apart. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the movie.

If you cut through the romantic veneer that thinly blankets The Time Traveler’s Wife, the epitome of manipulative women’s weepies, you find the creepiest Tinsel Town picture since the pedophilic and incestuous 17 Again: at root, it’s the story of a violent, alcoholic, kleptomaniacal exhibitionist who uses his Billy Pilgrim-esque travel habit to seduce a 10-year-old girl. Eric Bana plays that unlikely hero, whose “genetic anomaly” causes him, at random, to bounce through time (without his clothes); Rachel McAdams plays the grown-up version of that little girl, visited throughout her life by that grown and naked man.

The time travel invites multiple readings, the most obvious of which is that men are unreliable—they’re never around! It also raises identity issues: is our younger self the same as our older self? Which then raises some bizarre moral dilemmas: is it OK to make out with a time traveling younger version of your husband? Is it cheating? Unfortunately, these potentially compelling thematic threads are stuffed into an inert drama whose thin conflicts are based around the petty problems of the upper classes. (McAdams, already from a wealthy family, never has to work again—not that her hands were developing calluses—after Bana uses time traveling immorally to win the lottery.) Seriously: if you can’t conceive, adopt. If your husband isn’t around as much as you’d like him to be, get a hobby.

Yet for all these complaints, The Time Traveler’s Wife isn’t terrible: Schwentke directs serviceably, staying out of the way and, thank god, taking it easy on the swelling melodramatic music; the narrative coasts along on its (incoherent) gimmick and the charm of its stars—and, for some reason, its epic love story, even though the film pitches love as entrapment; McAdams is not subject to fate but to mortal design. “I couldn’t change even if I wanted to,” she admits. For some reason, people (the Twilight crowd?) find this romantic. Grade: C+

Watch the trailer:

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