'The Time Traveler's Wife' Burns Up in Space

New Line Cinema

City Pulse | August 10, 2009
Adapted from Audrey Niffenegger's novel, this sci-fi romance drama plays so loose with the parameters it lays out for Eric Bana's uncontrollable time-traveling in the role of Henry DeTamble that it's like watching half a movie twice. Henry suffers from a bizarre genetic condition that causes him to disappear for years at a time. His true love Clare (played by Rachel McAdams) waits patiently for him, working away as an artist in Chicago. All we know about Henry's vanishing act is that he always arrives at his new time and place destination naked, and is thus prone to committing desperate acts of theft. Somehow, Henry begins showing up around Clare long enough to get married and provide a house for them to live in through a stroke of time-traveling manipulation. McAdams and Bana are easy enough on the eyes to distract from the script's Grand Canyon-sized plot holes, but not enough to keep your mind off the insipid storytelling. Even from its gooey sentimental standpoint, The Time Traveler's Wife is two pints short of a gallon.

It's worth noting that the script was written by Bruce Joel Rubin (the screenwriter responsible for the similarly themed 1990 film Ghost), and that Brad Pitt executive produced the movie whose narrative mechanics are too close to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for comfort. The writer fixates on flashing back to a morally, if not ethically, questionable initial meeting between a very adult Henry and a very young Clare in an empty field. Clare picnics alone on a blanket only to be surprised by the presence of a nude Henry lurking suspiciously in the adjacent bushes. It's in this objectively dangerous setting that Henry captures Clare's imagination and the young girl's heart. It's a narrative construct that, however much is smoothed over with good intentions, raises more than a little skepticism about the thematic intent of the author. During their adult relationship, the couple individually reflect upon, and even actively take advantage of, this peculiar sexually charged meeting ground as a place to work out their connection to one another. At best, the storytelling in this area is irresponsible, and at its worst it reflects an oversight by the MPAA to give the film a PG-13 rating.

Children suffer a lot in director Robert Schwentke's movie. As a young boy Henry (Alex Ferris) rides in the backseat with his opera-singer mother Annette (Michelle Nolden) as their car careens toward sudden death for the mom, but a life-sparing disappearance by Henry who, soon thereafter, reappears to witness the furious result of the crash and meet his older self (Eric Bana) for a quick tutoring in the metaphysical aptitude as it awaits him.

The adult Henry and Clare will later struggle with several miscarriages resulting from Henry's odd genetic coding that over-leverages the story into a patronizing emotional realm designed ostensibly to pry at the tear ducts of young newlyweds to which the film is slanted. However, as with the unsavory middle-aged-man-taking-romantic-advantage-of-a-six-year-old-girl subplot, here again the story sounds a BS detector's alarm.

The Time Traveler's Wife is a pushy little romantic drama that exerts its careless thematic will on the audience as if it were a gaggle of geese being thoughtlessly herded across a busy street without road signs. The filmmakers seem to say to their audience, "You're a dumb sap and you're on your own."

(Warner Brothers) Rated PG-13. 107 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Address: 1905 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing, MI 48912-3011
  • Phone: (517) 371-5600