The Time Travelerís Wife is a movie for people who arenít really that into time travel. It avoids getting bogged down in the sci-fi specifics of its premise, in which a man named Henry (Eric Bana) spends his entire life jumping through time from one year to the next, and instead focuses on the emotional impact that has. The result is a film thatís kind of like The Notebook meets Quantum Leap, and not just because it co-stars Rachel McAdams. Yet director Robert Schwentkeís approach to Henryís never ending time travel dilemma is simple and sentimental. After a summer full of overly complicated and utterly empty robotic explosions, itís a welcome relief.
Unfortunately before it can get good, Time Travelerís Wife begins with one of the worst cinematic sins. If there are people in a car and theyíre happy, we know theyíre going to die. Itís a scene thatís been done to death so many times itís expected. No one ever shows families riding around on screen unless something horrible is about to happen to them. Itís a clichť well past its expiration date, but itís on full display here as six-year-old Henryís first leap through time happens to help him escape danger. Luckily the clichťs stop there, mostly. Stick with it.
Henry grows up, never knowing when heíll fade from sight only to reappear in a different decade, leaving a pile of clothes behind. As any good time traveler knows, you canít take your pants and so Henryís life is one of constant nudity. He fades away, appears somewhere else, and instantly begins a mad dash to find underwear. Heís forced to become a thief and an expert lock pick, smashing car windows and breaking down doors to grab covering wherever he can find it. Sometimes heís lucky and heís drawn back to familiar places, places where heís learned to leave clothing. Like gravity, certain locations draw him to them and heíll jump back to them over and over again, sometimes in different years, sometimes into the same year where heíll bizarrely, encounter an older or younger version of himself.
But Henryís time traveling adventures arenít really the focus of this story and we see them only in brief glimpses because soon, he meets a girl. When Clare sees him in the Library where fortunately, he had clothing stashed amongst the books, sheís known him his entire life. To him, sheís a perfect stranger. Year later during her first meeting with him, their roles are reversed. And so their romance travels in strange loops of disjointed moments, their love controlled by fate. Clare struggles to accept that she never knows when heíll be there or for that matter how old heíll be when he is, and Henry keeps jumping through time, out of control and headed for a future which cannot be escaped.
It sounds complicated but the specifics donít matter. All that matters is that Henry appears, disappears, and canít control when it happens. He gets married, tries to have a family, tries to grow old, but no matter how hard he and Clare try nothing is ever normal. Itís a strange problem with a very simple, love conquers all message. Itís the movie Benjamin Button should have been, the story of people connecting and holding on, an intimate portrayal of family life repeatedly interrupted by bizarre events. If thereís a failing in the film itís that it often pulls away when it should push. Itís a tear-jerker, sure, but it could easily have left the audience a complete and total wreck. Instead it holds back, minimizing some of the more dire aspects of the book itís based on, and passing up opportunities to show the darkest side of Henryís problem. The consequences of the life heís forced to live are blunted, in favor of focusing on his relationship with Clare, home alone again.
Yet The Time Travelerís Wife earns its tears and perhaps by dulling some of the storyís edge weíre saved from a tale which might otherwise have slid past beautifully bittersweet into the realm of disturbingly dark depression. Instead itís a sad but satisfyingly romantic tale of two people whose love is a slave to the cruel whims of unpredictable chance. Grab a box of Kleenex and drown happily in star-crossed sentiment.
Reviewed By: Josh Tyler