The Time Traveler’s Wife
Running time 107 minutes
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston
In the boring, benign and inconsequential transfer from best seller to film of The Time Traveler’s Wife, an adventurous Chicago librarian is cursed with a genetic mutation that forces him to shift involuntarily back and forth in time, regardless of age. There’s no warning when this anomaly will strike, but every time it does, he just dissolves, leaving behind a puddle of clothes as he melts, like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, and returns stark naked, on busy streets or in crowded public rooms, providing the audience with a number of unobstructed views of Australian actor Eric Bana’s rear end. Those who keep tabs on such things might consider that much skin adequate compensation for suffering through just under two hours of stultifying tedium. Unfortunately, this movie needs a great deal more to keep more-demanding viewers from snoring.
Henry, the time traveler, first became aware of his skills and their resulting predicaments when as a small boy he survived a automobile accident that killed his mother and left him traumatized for life. Through the years, she keeps appearing, not even knowing the man she’s talking to is her son, but there is nothing he can do to reverse fate, warn her to stay off snowy highways or change the course of history. The time traveler’s wife, played by scrumptious Canadian actress Rachel McAdams, is a beautiful art student named Clare, who has been in love with Henry since she met him at the age of 6 in a meadow behind her house. He was a 36-year-old naked man hiding in the bushes who asked her for her picnic blanket to cover up his private parts. (“I’m a time traveler—I come from the future, and when I do, I don’t get to bring my clothes.”) In this preposterous fable, instead of running screaming to the police, she believes his story, pledges undying love and waits decades for the day when they can finally meet in real time. When they do, he doesn’t recognize her from a different time zone, but she weathers every challenge until he marries her. Sometimes she’s 6, back in the meadow where she learns to keep extra trousers on hand just in case, and sometimes she’s a grown woman, but one thing that never changes is her love. There are a few perks to time travel (you see the world and you never have to pack or wear a tie), but it doesn’t take long for Clare to experience the downside. When he shows up on their wedding day, he’s got gray hair. When he vanishes on their wedding night, he’s got black hair. Young, old or in Never Never Land, one thing is constant—he never, ever shaves.
Let’s face it: Time travel is the pits. I mean, you just can’t depend on a mate who is never around when needed. Henry can’t drive a car because he might disappear behind the wheel in the middle of traffic. He can’t fly in a plane because if he vanishes on board, it will never be in the same place in the sky when he returns. He’s never around for the big events, like meeting Clare’s parents, childbirth or holidays. “Did I miss Christmas?” “And New Year’s.” But when he comes back from the future with a winning lottery ticket for five million dollars, all is suddenly forgiven. Arriving at various destinations with no wallet and his Johnson hanging out, it’s inevitable that he turns to thieves, thugs and killers for travelers’s aid. The movie grows longer and loopier by the minute until Henry comes home again one day with a bullet hole in his head. That’s when Clare sees her own future—as a single parent to daughter Alba. Eventually, Henry travels beyond his own life span and meets Alba, who may be seeing things herself and … Oh, forget it. The movie long ago stopped making a lick of sense. From here, you’re on your own.
German director Robert Schwentke, who guided Jodie Foster through Flightplan, about the search for a child who disappears on a plane 30,000 feet in the sky, may have a feel for action in tight places, but the claustrophobia in The Time Traveler’s Wife leads to a completely different kind of panic. I couldn’t wait to escape, and it wasn’t for a breath of fresh air. Maybe the novel by Audrey Niffenegger, which a number of people seem to have read and enjoyed, was more convincing, but the unsatisfactory, yo-yo script by Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote Ghost, makes no real effort to explore the inner emotions of the characters. Nobody loves, loses and learns. They’re just desperate and confused at all times. Among the supporters, Arliss Howard is wasted as Mr. Bana’s drunken, suicidal father, and all-American Ron Livingston is miscast as his lifelong friend and best man, an ethnic pal named Gomez. The film has none of the twists, ironies and paradoxes (not to mention humor) that gave the Back to the Future time-travel trilogy such a wallop. Instead, it concerns us more with trying to figure out exactly what’s going on, when and why. Half the time, I didn’t know whether the action was taking place in the future, the past or outer space. Clearly, Mr. Bana’s Henry is not the brightest bulb in the lamp. Consequently, Ms. McAdams goes through so much unnecessary and ill-advised cardboard confusion that you begin to wonder if she’s lost her marbles, too. Bring back Michael J. Fox.