An unusual hybrid of chick-flick by way of science fiction, The Time Traveler’s Wife had the potential to be a truly unique love story; one for the guys as well as the girls. However, the end result veers way too far into the romantic depths in order to accomplish a successful genre combo. Resembling something far closer to The Notebook than to The Twilight Zone, the film ends up alienating fans of each genre by not adhering to either one.
Based on the best-selling book by Audrey Niffenegger, the story revolves around a couple, Henry and Clare (Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams), who find themselves destined to be together despite Henry’s inablity to control his gift/curse of time travel. Despite the fact that the film’s title alludes to Clare, this is really Henry’s story. There is no explanation given for his “chrono impairment”, nor are there any rules (he meets himself throughout the film without paradox). Henry finds himself drawn “like gravity” to the same pivotal moments of his life, again and again. Whether it’s the car crash that killed his mother, or the day he meets Clare for the first time, he cannot control where he goes or when he goes there.
While this randomness might have worked in book form, it doesn’t translate to film. On the page, this sort of free-form storytelling can be effective. But on film, a more linear structure is needed. There doesn’t seem to be a cohesive narrative, but rather a series of events that don’t really amount to much of anything when pieced together.
I will give the film credit for not following the chick-flick wedding cliches. The first part of the film details Henry and Clare’s courtship, going all the way back to adult Henry meeting Clare as a child. These provide some of the film’s best scenes, and provide an interesting complication for Henry as he is later forced to live up to the expectations established by the “ghost” of his former self. However, in an unusual move for this type of film, the second part of the film goes to a darker place, right after the inevitable wedding.
This is the where the fantasy ends for Clare and she has to deal with the ramifications of having a time-travelling husband. How can she live a normal life with a normal family if she never knows when her husband is going to randomly disappear? And is it a genetic condition, one that would endanger a future child?
I liked these ideas and conflicts, but the way they were presented just felt false. Overly sentimental and emotionally forced, the filmmakers pile on the sap and melodrama without restraint. Bana and McAdams have a definite chemistry, and this helps the film in a lot of ways. But the chemistry between them can’t overshadow the soap opera that is playing out on screen.
Visually, the film is impressive. The colors are vibrant, the directing is showy without ever being distracting, and there are a lot of creative edits in order to keep the story moving. One of the bonus features describes all the early scenes as being from the point of view of a character’s distorted memory, rather than reality. Therefore, the colors are brighter, the hair more perfect, etc. Personally, I don’t think this approach makes sense as we are supposed to be seeing him literally traveling to these moments in time, but as an aesthetic approach it does create some beautiful imagery.
For the new Blu-Ray release, two bonus features were included. I wasn’t particularly excited as I began watching these, but I found myself more captivated by these features than I was by the film itself. The first one is called “Behind the Story: An Unconventional Love Story.” I found myself having a greater appreciation for the film after watching this. I still don’t think it’s a particularly good movie, but I can respect what they were trying to accomplish.
Featuring several interviews with cast and crew as well as visual depictions of what they are discussing, this feature brings to light several thematic aspects of the film I hadn’t even realized as I watched it. For example, they discuss the concept of the film being “constructed around echoes,” and how they made specific attempts to replicate visual cues throughout the film. They also discuss the different interpretations of the time-travel itself and whether it’s to be looked at literally or as various metaphors for relationships.
The other feature is called “The Time Traveller’s Wife: Love Beyond Words.” This feature is all about adapting the book into a film. It’s interesting hearing the screenwriter discuss his thought process as he tried to turn a very literary story into something suitable for the screen. In my opinion, he wasn’t successful, but it was still interesting to get the different perspectives on the story.
This isn’t an awful movie. It’s just not very good. There is a lot of potential in the basic premise, but they chose to push the film in an over-the-top romantic direction that cancelled out what could have been a compelling story. I’m sure the book is great, but it just did not translate. Some of the film works, but overall, I found it a disappointing, jumbled mess.