Review: The Time Traveller’s Wife
Ever since losing his mother tragically in a car accident when he was a kid, Eric Bana finds himself travelling through time without his consent, always arriving at his destination naked, and unable to control when or where. The love of his life is Rachel McAdams, whom he first meets when she’s an adult, but that’s only from Bana’s perspective. For McAdams (who does not time travel), she’s known him since she was a little girl (Confused? Yeah, get used to it!), and she has become accustomed to loving a man who frequently disappears and reappears in her life randomly, though it is most certainly not easy. Ron Livingston plays McAdams’ protective brother, Stephen Tobolowsky is a geneticist who tries to help Bana, and Arliss Howard is Bana’s grieving, hard-drinking dad.
Based on an apparently popular Audrey Niffenegger novel (which I haven’t read), this Robert Schwentke (the disappointing Jodie Foster thriller “Flightplan”, “RED”, and “R.I.P.D.”) blend of time-travel and romance is one of those films that never works as well as you want it to. The cast is there (McAdams is particularly radiant), the ideas are there, it just doesn’t come off.
I like sci-fi and fantasy films a lot, but like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” the film tries to tug at the heartstrings and fails because the blend of fantasy ideas and real-world setting is uneasy. Or to put it another way, this film isn’t science-fiction nor was “Benjamin Button” fantasy, they simply took sci-fi and fantasy ideas and tried to put them into romantic dramas. I never bought it in either film, and it’s certainly a tricky idea to pull off. I never felt sad or moved by Benjamin Button’s plight because I didn’t believe in it. No one has to go through what Benjamin does, it’s not real and the film never pulled me into accepting its fantasy as real for a couple of hours. This film similarly fails to convince. How can the relationship between Bana and McAdams work? Who in the hell would put themselves through such torture as McAdams does, having to put up with a guy who travels back and forth randomly in her life? And consider this: They meet when she’s a kid and he’s nearing middle-age. Isn’t that just...well, seriously creepy? Their relationship takes on a faint whiff of paedophilia, at least in the mind, and I could never shake it. Bana tells the girl of their eventual destiny at such a young age that it comes off like he’s grooming her (despite the fact that their first meeting is when they are both adults and they don’t kiss until she ‘looked about 18’- Ow! Head hurts!), to the point where she must feel obliged to stay loyal to him. At one point McAdams even says, ‘You came to that meadow...and you forced yourself into the heart and the mind of a little girl’, so even if no sexual contact was made when she was a kid, it still has the faint whiff of paedophilic grooming. Some won’t even pick up on this (and like I said, they first meet as adults), and will be swept up in the romance of the film, but I just didn’t get there, folks.
I’ll admit the central conceit leads to a nice payoff at the end where it even suggests (at least to me) that there might be a spiritual thing going on here (Weird that as an Agnostic Atheist, I’m not only picking up on a possible theological idea, I’m enjoying it), but the connection between the two leads just wasn’t there, nor was the believability. The fact that the relationship is necessarily told in fractured fashion takes away the emotional connection for the audience, we can’t care because we’re never invited in for long enough before Bana’s off and away back or forth in time. We can barely ever get a handle on them or the point in their relationship that we’re looking at. It’s all so clunky, the first scene between the two is horribly confusing, and there’s scant explanation for Bana’s time-travelling, outside of a half-arsed genetic mutation thing. And don’t even get me started on an earlier scene where Bana visits a younger version of himself, I’m pretty sure that makes no goddamn sense whatsoever, genetic mutation or not.
The book is probably good (and probably very hard to film), but Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who did much better blending of fantasy and romance with “Ghost”) don’t bring it convincingly to the screen. I mean, at least in “Slaughterhouse Five” (another film and novel this shares similarities with), there was the sense that the main character was only internally time-travelling, or at least, it was a plausible possibility. Still, believable or not, the time travel aspects are sometimes intriguing (there’s an admittedly clever loophole involving a pregnancy), and there’s some amusing work by the underrated Livingston. I just didn’t buy any of it, I’m afraid. Maybe you will, and I probably envy you a bit. It’s no fun being the guy who doesn’t get it…but I didn’t get it.