The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
Directed by Robert Schwentke
PG-13, 107 mins.
New Line Cinema
We live in a really good movie area that includes six independent screens, so we often delay seeing films that get mixed reviews in commercial release. The Time Traveler’s Wife was one of those movies and now that we’ve seen it, about the best that we can say is that it’s a mindless diversion for a rainy summer night.
We’ve not read the Audrey Niffenegger novel upon which the movie is based, but reviewers say that it’s an odd book and that the central idea of a man whose genetic disorder causes him to time travel is a metaphor for absent and emotionally withdrawn men. We also gather that the book centers on Clare Abshire, the unfortunate “wife” of the book’s title, who has to endure long period’s of Henry DeTamble time-traveling truancy. Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay shifts this so dramatically that the film should be titled The Time Traveler and (by the way) His Wife. Eric Bana plays DeTamble, mostly as a gentle, well-meaning guy who would like to stick around, but those darn genes keep pulling him in and out of the present. Rachel McAdams plays Claire, mostly as a saintly and forgiving figure who stands by her man. Heck, this could have been a film about a 1950s suburban housewife if you took away the sci-fi elements. Mostly McAdams fawns and empathizes. She has no clear personality, hence those few scenes in which she expresses anger over her episodic widowhood ring false. To be fair, this is not McAdams’ fault—neither Rubin’s screenplay nor Robert Schwentke’s direction provide enough scene development for McAdams to do much more than smile, frown, or cry.
There are numerous movie devices that are presumably explained in the book, but make for puzzling holes in the movie plot. Every time Henry time travels, for instance, he appears naked. Why? Okay, so the guy’s age changes and if he left 2005 and landed back in 1990, his clothing wouldn’t have been made yet. But if you had Henry’s problem, wouldn’t you wear old underwear? And if Henry is nude, where’s he hiding the lock picks he uses to break into houses and steal clothing? Again, we learn next to nothing about Clare, so her transformation from the curious six-year-old who first encounters Henry, to the love-struck twenty-year-old who beds him, to the feminist tiger spouting lines about having her own life require watchers to suspend quite a lot of disbelief.
It’s possible that The Time Traveler’s Wife is an unfilmable book. It’s also possible that the job was botched by Rubin and Schwentke. This was the latter’s fifth feature directorial effort, but if the name rings no bells it’s because none of his previous or subsequent efforts have caused any heart palpitations. The Time Traveler’s Wife as a movie is a metaphor for nothing except mindless escapism.