The Time Traveler’s Wife: A Surprisingly Time-Efficient Weepfest

When wildly successful books like The Time Traveler’s Wife are turned into films, there are two major ways in which they can go wrong. Either they can change elements of the book so drastically that they alienate the core fanbase, or they can dumb down the details of the book to such a degree that the film doesn’t have the same resonance as the book. While this film undoubtedly is shorter than the book and must trim out a lot of material, the narrative runs smoothly and many interesting issues are raised, making The Time Traveler’s Wife an effective fantasy in the weepy romance genre. The main characters immediately earn our sympathy, the plot twists and turns unexpectedly, and without cheap manipulation, it earns the tears instead of forcing them onto us.

At the beginning, we see a small child singing in the car with his mother. All of a sudden, a truck starts heading for them, and the boy begins to disappear, distracting his mother from the road. He emerges at a different time, with no clothes on. He then flashes back to the car crash, from the outside, where he sees the car explode. A man approaches him with a blanket and comforts him, telling him there’s nothing he could have done. It’s an older version of himself– this is the title time traveler, Henry (played as an adult by Eric Bana). He shoots through time without any control, emerging in new times naked, since his clothes don’t make it through the time-space continuum. He soon meets a cute girl named Clare (Rachel McAdams), who recognizes him and says she’s gotten to know the older Henry. He tends to be naturally drawn to big events when he jumps in time– she was a “big event,” she tells him. They fall in love, and the rest of the story is about their trials and tribulations.

Trying to think too hard about the logic and particulars of the timeline of events and how they play out the way they do will only make your head hurt. However, if you go into the film accepting that this could be real and this timeline could exist, the way the film plays out makes the details seem surprisingly taut. Henry disappears and appears in interesting times and places, and while one could argue he coincidentally vanishes when the plot dictates a moment when is presence is important in order to manufacture tension, the film moves along at such a nice rhythm and with such charm that only a cold heart would notice this as the film plays out before his or her eyes.

Yet as with all movies, a film like this can only succeed with the proper chemistry, and Bana and McAdams have it. Bana has the more difficult role: his character ages more, has more to hide, and is put in more adverse situations. He handles the proceedings with dignity and the ways in which Henry grows and develops are constantly intriguing. However, McAdams is the one that really shines– she has the best movie star smile since young Julia Roberts, believably and subtly aging as the film moves forward, and nailing the underrated task of delivering the lion’s share of the tear-jerking lines– there is a fine line between an earnest sad romantic statement and a corny laughable statement, and nothing McAdams says reads as corny. Between this and The Notebook, if I was casting a romance film, there is absolutely no one else I would want.

Some other actors leave good marks with very limited screen time, including Ron Livingston as Clare’s friend Gomez, Arliss Howard as Henry’s depressed father, the always-great Stephen Tobolowsky as Henry’s doctor, and Brooklyn Proulx as young Clare, who wins bonus points for being a terrific child actress and looking exactly the way a young Rachel McAdams must have looked. Robert Schwentke directs the film with a nice eye and keeps the pace brisk, but the real star here is Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the screenplay. Rubin, who also wrote Ghost and Deep Impact and knows a thing or two about tear-jerking, finds the right note between cutting too much and leaving too much in, creating an organic middle ground for the film to rest in. The film’s science may be a bit shaky, and lovers of the book may find some of their favorite pages left on the cutting room floor. Still, as far as recent romantic dramas go, this one is time well spent.

~ by russellhainline on September 5, 2009.

One Response to “The Time Traveler’s Wife: A Surprisingly Time-Efficient Weepfest”

  1. […] The Lovely Bones 9. Sandra Bullock- The Blind Side 8. Maya Rudolph- Away We Go 7. Rachel McAdams- The Time Traveler’s Wife 6. Amy Adams- Sunshine Cleaning 5. Rose Byrne- Adam 4. Gabourey Sidibe- Precious 3. Carey Mulligan- […]

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