The Time Travelers Wife [PG-13]
Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Michelle Nolden, Alex Ferris, Arliss Howard
Director: Robert Schwentke
This is the first year in a while in which critics have settled on a consensus “best film so far” – The Hurt Locker. But that’s also an admission that there have been few films that have posed real competition.
Yet I’ve been treated to three films this year that are strictly genre pics that have fulfilled their relatively limited potential – Star Trek as a summer blockbuster, The Uninvited as cookie-cutter horror, and now The Time Travelers Wife. It’s a lovely big goopy, soapy, sappy, girly weepie, adapted from the passionately loved Audrey Neffinger novel .
Romances are stories of inevitability and destiny. Time travel stories are usually stories of altering fate. The film ably plays with the difference. Eric Bana plays Henry, a man who like Billy Pilgrim has become unhinged in time. Without warning, he disappears into naked travels from one point in time to another. This is alternately swoony and frustrating for his artist wife, Clare.
As befitting a time travel tale, they meet at different moments. She meets him as a six-year-old.
She’s playing in a meadow on her father’s estate. He’s naked and hiding in the bushes begging for clothes. He makes regular visits to her in the meadow as she grows up. Until one day in her twenties Clare finds the younger Henry in a library. Each time one knows more about the other.
The film’s romance is a slow, blue burn. Only for a short while does it have the vivacious ardor of first love. Much of the romance is the quiet currencies of care found in marriage. The film also uses its premise to create moments of real poignance, such as a really special one when Henry meets a certain woman on a train whose fate he knows.
Some writers have criticized the film for not making sense. Well, duh. Undying love doesn’t do logic. The story wouldn’t make sense if it made sense. These are the sorts of people who watch Field of Dreams and wonder where the baseball players go when it rains in the cornfield.
Instead, a film like this is supposed to run on an emotional reality, or an emotional surreality. with the force of love bending time to its will. The film shares a screenwriter with Ghost (Bruce Joel Rubin) and shares a sense of swoon and the supernatural. This sensation is ably delivered by Bana and McAdams, two stars whom the camera seems to especially adore. The actors so easily take such big emotions and make them simple and personal. It helps that their characters are written with intelligence, if not necessarily depth.
You have to give yourself to The Time Travelers Wife, and not everyone will. It’s not a film for cynics (which should disqualify me, but whatever). But it took me where it wanted me to go. And it made me feel like it wanted me to feel. For a film like this, that is all you can ask.