Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Rated: PG-13

Website: Official The Time Traveler’s Wife site

Starring: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Stephen Tobolowsky, Arliss Howard

My Review: I was lucky enough to attend the NYC premiere of The Time Traveler’s Wife (and see Eric Bana from a far, far distance). I had read the book that it’s based on awhile ago, and had a lukewarm reaction to it, so I was hoping the movie would cause me to have more of an emotional investment with the characters, but unfortunately the movie left me just as tepid as the book did (despite the star gazing from across a crowded theater).

The story focuses on the relationship of Henry and Clare, and how it struggles to survive the hardships that his condition creates. Henry is a time traveler; at any given moment and without any warning, he will involuntarily disappear from the present and traipse through time. He revisits the same destinations often—ones that hold emotional significance for him—and one of his most popular stops is the meadow behind Clare’s childhood home. She first meets him when she’s a child and he’s a middle-aged man, and he continues to visit her while she is growing up, knowing that in the future (which is actually his present) they’re married. He first meets her when they’re both in their 20’s and she wanders into the library where he works, and tells him that his older self has been coming to visit her throughout her childhood and she’s been in love with him her whole life. And so begins their love affair, which leads to a marriage fraught with stress and loneliness as Henry’s time traveling grows more frequent and erratic, and Clare is always left behind, wondering when he’ll return and what happens to him when he’s gone.

While I do like the unique premise of The Time Traveler’s Wife—time traveling as a genetic disorder—I failed to have a true emotional connection to either Henry or Clare or their relationship. Their “love that is destined to be” just never rang true to me. I don’t see in Henry what Clare does that makes her wait for him throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, and then continue to wait once they’re together. And I never feel Henry’s true connection to Clare because when he first meets her and she says she’s known him for years and that they’re married in the future, he’s just accepts that and seems to simply go through the motions of dating her, marrying her, and creating a life with her, because he knows how that’s how things turn out anyway.

The main reason I have no emotional investment in Henry and Clare’s relationship is because Henry is kind of a bore. He never seems to have much of a personality—you never see him being overly funny, or passionate, or vivacious—he just sort of plods through life, waiting for his next time traveling episode to occur. When he finally hooks up with Clare, it almost feels like he’s doing it just so he can have something else to do with his time. And even when he time travels, he never seems to go or do anything of interest. While his disappearances often happen at inopportune times and creates the necessary dramatic tension with his life with Clare, it would be more rewarding if he actually went places. Travel the world. Go way back in time. Meet some significant people who are now deceased. Anything! But he always seems to revisit the same places, and usually within the Chicago area where he and Clare live. I understand that going back to Clare’s childhood home often is a main plot point of the story, but what about all those other trips? How many times does he need to go revisit the moment when his mother was killed in a car crash? Couldn’t he have checked out the Pyramids or something like that?

Whether Henry’s blandness is the fault of the screenwriter, Eric Bana’s acting, or a combo package, I’m not sure. Rachel McAdams does a nice job as Clare, making both her love and frustrations with Henry very believable; even though I don’t understand her devotion to him, McAdams did make me believe is was genuine. Most of the secondary characters from the book have either been cut or had their presence significantly reduced, so the movie’s main focus is strictly on Henry and Clare (if you were hoping to see Henry’s father’s Asian neighbor or Henry’s ex-girlfriend, prepare for disappointment). Ron Livingston plays their mutual friend Gomez in a few scenes, but he’s not nearly as involved in their lives as he is in the book, so I think he was just added to the movie to show that Henry and Clare sometimes see people other than each other. Also significantly reduced is the role of Dr. Kendrick, the geneticist who tries to evaluate and cure Henry’s condition. He’s play affably in his few scenes by Stephen Tobolowsky, who has the misfortune of forever being Groundhog Day’s Ned Ryerson in my head, and I kept waiting for him to tell Henry, “Watch out for that time traveling! It’s a doozy!”

Bottom Line: While there are elements to The Time Traveler’s Wife that I really like, the story as a whole feels disconnected, unemotional, and confusing at times (the aging of Henry for scenes where he’s tripping through time at various stages of life didn’t work as smoothly as the filmmakers had hoped). Rachel McAdams is the one standout performance in the whole movie, as she is with most things she does, but in a movie that’s all about a great love, one person isn’t enough to carry the production. And if you’re a fan of the book, the many omissions and oversights are bound to cause disappointment, which is all too often the case with adaptations.


  1. The previews seem confusing too. I plan to watch this on Friday in Seattle, thanks for the early review!

  2. Yes I was afraid the movie wasn't gonna do any justice to the book. I'm not gonna watch it, the previews themselves are so "not-capturing" enough.