'Time Traveler's Wife': The Once And Future Fling

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in 'The Time Traveler's Wife' i i

Baby Please Don't Go: Clare (Rachel McAdams) and Henry (Eric Bana) stay close despite his unfortunate tendency when stressed to slip away through time — leaving his clothes behind. Alan Markfield/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Alan Markfield/New Line Cinema
Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Baby Please Don't Go: Clare (Rachel McAdams) and Henry (Eric Bana) stay close despite his unfortunate tendency when stressed to slip away through time — leaving his clothes behind.

Alan Markfield/New Line Cinema

The Time
Traveler's Wife

  • Director: Robert Schwentke
  • Genre: Drama, Romance
  • Running Time: 107 minutes

Rated PG-13: Brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality

With: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard

As the oeuvre of Garry Marshall attests, preposterousness is no obstacle to a Hollywood romance, even one as potentially creepy as The Time Traveler's Wife. Adapting Audrey Niffenegger's three-hanky novel, German director Robert Schwentke — who previously assaulted us with flayed flesh in the grisly Tattoo and with highflying ridiculousness in Flightplan — remains firmly in his comfort zone, which favors idiotic stories anchored by an excess of atmosphere. Say what you will about Schwentke's narrative choices, the man knows his mise-en-scene.

This time we're in upper-middle-class Chicago, where little Henry DeTamble (Alex Ferris) is about to dodge the head-on car collision that will kill his opera-singing mother (Michelle Nolden). Time-traveling out of that car, Henry discovers the genetic anomaly that will plague his life and baffle his acquaintances: the ability to flit around in time, backward and forward, without warning or agency.

Like a Terminator, Henry must travel naked — a restriction that could have added all manner of comic possibilities to his jaunts. But since Schwentke apparently wouldn't recognize a joke at 10 paces, we must console ourselves with the fact that adult Henry is located in the body of Eric Bana and not, say, Paul Giamatti.

Henry first meets Clare (Rachel McAdams as an adult and an overacting Brooklynn Proulx as a child) when she is 6 and he is middle-aged. Materializing in the meadow where Clare is playing, Henry borrows her picnic blanket, covers his naughty bits and makes friends.

For the next decade, Henry will visit Clare regularly (her mother clearly having decided against the How to Deal With Naked Strangers talk), though they won't begin dating until she is 18. Henry's age is more difficult to pin down — and telegraphed primarily by fluctuating hairstyles — but by this point in the movie we understand that madness lies in the details.

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams in 'The Time Traveler's Wife' i i

Henry's condition turns out to be genetic — as Clare learns to her sorrow when she tries to have his child. Alan Markfield/New Line Cinema hide caption

itoggle caption Alan Markfield/New Line Cinema
Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams in 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Henry's condition turns out to be genetic — as Clare learns to her sorrow when she tries to have his child.

Alan Markfield/New Line Cinema

Proceeding with a blithe disregard for both logic and physics, The Time Traveler's Wife offers supposedly female-friendly twaddle about destiny and wifely selflessness. What it's really about, however, is codependency: Henry, a research librarian uninterested in researching his own condition, comes and goes in Clare's life at regular intervals and against his will; he's like an addict who keeps toppling down the 12 steps. And just like any codependent partner, Clare (an artist whose work we never see) not only agrees to marry him but also — after several unsuccessful attempts to gestate a time-traveling fetus — to bear his child. Good luck imposing timeouts on a kid who won't even stay in the womb.

As you'll recall from Somewhere in Time and The Lake House, time travel is considered inherently romantic by Hollywood screenwriters, and Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) is no exception.

Here, though, his writing is hobbled by obviousness (Henry and Clare dancing to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" at their wedding) and a story that rarely captures the two leads in the same decade for longer than five minutes. McAdams glows, as always, but Bana looks drained: I guess all that time-shifting leaves its mark on the complexion as well as the soul.

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