This is basically a straight-forward story, with a lot jumping back and forth in time, about two nice people who love one another. It’s beautifully shot, with lots of terrific sets and costumes. All the actors are pleasant enough to watch, especially Rachel McAdams who’s turning into a great beauty. But it’s not very romantic and, unlike the novel on which it’s based, it’s not terribly memorable. It’ll be great on DVD.
Henry De Tamble (Eric Bana, Funny People) is a tall, good-looking research librarian with a strange genetic defect–he travels in time, without warning, sometimes backwards, other times forward, a few minutes, many years, there’s no telling. When he lands, he’s always naked, which causes some interesting problems–he’s become adept at breaking and entering, picking locks and swiping people’s clothes wherever he can find them, such as in stores, or employee lockers. Time of day doesn’t matter, nor does the weather. He hasn’t identified what triggers an episode and never sought a cure. Wisely he doesn’t drive a car and has learned to curb his alcohol intake. Otherwise, he’s clueless.
Such a guy could be quite lonely, if not an outright commitment phobe. And falling in love with such a guy can require pretty unique coping mechanisms. Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams, State of Play) is up to it. She’s been in love with Henry ever since she met him in a meadow when she was six years old and he, in his late 30s, had just landed in nearby shrubbery and needed her picnic blanket to drape over his nakedness. When they meet–finally–in the present and when both are courting-appropriate ages, they fall in love and have a big wedding.
Henry is always disappearing without warning, leaving behind a pile of clothes. Like all the wives of traveling men, Clare whines about loneliness. As inconvenient as his absences are for Clare, they’re not all bad for Henry. He’s been able to see his beloved dead mother again and watch Clare grow up in various stages. When he goes to the future he can see that not only will he look quite dashing when grey starts flecking through his hair, but that he can cleverly apply future knowledge to the present. In other words, he can win the lottery. The young couple now has no money problems and they move into a huge, gorgeous house where Clare can have a big art studio. All their friends come to visit, especially Gomez, (Ron Livingston, TV’s Standoff), who, despite his initial dismay at Henry’s condition, has become his stalwart ally.
Two times Clare becomes pregnant and both times loses the fetus and is devastated. Does the fetus carry Henry’s time-traveling genetic defect? Could it ever stay put long enough to survive full gestation and be born? Interesting concepts here.
Henry solves what he sees as a problem by getting a vasectomy. But then after that he travels back in time to his younger self, and Clare, being resourceful, gets pregnant from the younger Henry. Very interesting concept here–haven’t a lot of us gals wished we could have the chance to sleep with our husbands when they were much younger?
Henry and Clare successfully have a little girl named Alba and sure enough, she has the same time-traveling gene, but she seems to handle it well. Five-year-old Alba (Tatum McCann) has the kind of quirky face you love to look at–and the pleasure in her performance is doubled when she plays with her older time-traveling self (played by her older sister Hailey McCann).
As Henry and Clare mature, more interesting concepts occur to them. If someone can travel back and forth in time, can they then see the future and try to change it? Can they forestall their own death?
As thoughtful as the movie is and as prettily laid out, director Robert Schwenkte (Flightplan) just didn’t make it sizzle like a love story should. Bana and McAdams generate no buzz whatsoever. Worse, in the entire movie, the couple laughs only once–when they’re jumping up and down on their big bed in the hotel room on their wedding night. That’s it. All the rest of the time they are suffering the effects of time travel. I’m sure time travel is a royal pain, but audiences need more than coping mechanisms in a movie about relationships. They need joy and silliness and flirting and anticipation–and more anticipation. Alas, in light of its totally ridiculous suspension of disbelief aspect, The Time Travelers Wife just turns out not to be any fun.
Despite all their problems, Clare has the goodness of heart to tell Henry. “I wouldn’t change one moment of our life together.” Aw. Yes, it’s a feel-good at the end. As I said, it’ll be great on DVD.