The Time Traveler's Wife

Director    Robert Schwentke
Starring    Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jane McLean, Philip Craig
Release    14 AUG (US) 14 AUG (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


20th August 2009

Sci-fi geeks across the globe are scratching their heads at this one. "So there's a guy who has harnessed the power to traverse past and future...and this film is about his missus?" We all have to accept the fact that we're swapping killer robots for a tragic love story here, as the guy in question doesn't so much 'harness' the power to time travel as get caught up in the stirrups during its stampede.

Based on the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife tells the story of Henry (Bana) and Clare (McAdams) who try to build a stable life together despite the fact that Henry suffers from a rare genetic disorder which causes him to travel backwards and forwards in time (within in his own lifespan) at a moment's notice. When Henry first meets Clare, it is not the first time she has met him - he has in fact been visiting her throughout her life since she was 6 years old.

As their relationship grows, so too do their problems, as Clare often finds herself abandoned by her vanishing beau and is forced to wait for him to return, not knowing how old he'll be when he does. It's the kind of schmaltz that uses every trick and romantic image in the book (Look, snow! Christmas! A deer!) - it's designed to tug at all available heartstrings and, to an extent, it works.

[gallery]The premise itself is the kind of conceit that is usually enough to build a lazy love story around, but the film does occasionally throw up fresh ideas. The wedding between the time-crossed lovers, in particular, is played out for both laughs and sobs as Henry disappears, leaving Clare alone on the big day, only to be replaced by a much older version, prompting guests to speculate on the sudden appearance of grey hairs.

In the same way, there is as much humour as there is genuine apprehension in the fact that Henry's clothes don't time travel with him, leaving him as naked as a Terminator every time he awakes in a different year (not to get sci-fi geeks' hopes up - I repeat, there are NO killer robots in this movie).

The light touches of humour help to make the film more palatable, but you are never in doubt that you're watching a heartbreaking story - one which keeps you guessing as to how it will all end. That is until, in true time-travel fashion, Henry and Clare (and the audience) are granted a haunting glimpse of the future which switches the emphasis from their love for each other to how long they have left (a moment that will either have you gasping or looking at your watch).

For all that the film does well, however, it also fails to comprehensively address all of the time-travel issues it presents, leaving audiences to wonder over paradoxes and plot points. Never is this more apparent than when Henry and Clare argue and she tells him she has never had a choice in life...but then Henry only visits her as a child because SHE told him he did in the first place.

Which brings us onto another sticking point: as much as the film does well to avoid any creepy 'child snatcher' undertones during Henry's meeting with the 6-year-old version of his future wife, you still can't help but wonder if Clare is just being 'groomed' from a very young age - would she still fall in love with Henry if she hadn't been told all throughout her life (by Henry) that she WILL fall in love with him?

It's the kind of debatable issue that is present in any film dealing with time travel since the invention of the flux capacitor but it is made so much more evident here by the out-of-control narrative. It was always going to be a difficult task portraying Henry and Clare's individual timelines, but we aren't given any kind of anchor from which to better understand the chronological order. When Henry disappears, sometimes we follow him and sometimes we stay with Clare and the result is a long series of events that leave you wondering exactly how much time has passed between scenes.

Where director Robert Schwentke fails with the narrative, however, he succeeds in peppering the film with neat little camera tricks and subtle suggestions to depict Henry's many disappearances rather than relying on the film's sole visual effect, which adds to the movie's charm and lends it an occasional quirky edge.

The film is also, in part, saved by the actors. Although the on-screen chemistry between Bana and McAdams hardly sizzles, both are adept at conveying the tragic overtones without reaching melodrama. McAdams especially shines in her role, using her Notebook credentials to convincingly portray innocent 18-year-old Clare as easily as 40-something Clare. It is, however, a shame that Ron Livingston in typical "funny best friend" mode is criminally underused.

Overall, the film is unswerving in its portrayal of a heartbreaking tale, and it is unashamedly determined to make audiences weep by the bucketload, but there are also some genuinely original moments - a rare thing considering how easy it is to fall into age-old time-travel clich's. Shame about the lack of killer robots, though.

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