The Time Traveler’s Wife is part of a rare genre: romantic science fiction. But just because one of the characters flits through time and space doesn’t mean this is like an episode of Star Trek. Nope. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a romance first and sci fi second. Based on a best selling novel the story is equal parts Back to the Future, Benjamin Button and The Notebook. It’s a story about love with no boundaries and how romance can transcend everything, even death. Sounds like a three Kleenex kind of movie, doesn’t it?
Eric Bana is Henry DeTamble, a Chicago librarian with a genetic disorder known as Chrono-Displacement that causes him to involuntarily travel through time. Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) is an artist. From the outset their relationship is a strange one. When they first meet she has known him since she was six years old, but because his syndrome flips him to random times in his life on an ever shifting timeline he is meeting her for the first time. Confused? Not as confused as Clare who tries to build a life with Henry even though his ailment keep them apart.
Once you get past the twisty-turny time travel story device, I’m sorry to say there isn’t much left. The Time Traveler’s Wife is at its core a very old fashioned romance about the enduring qualities of true love tarted up with a sci fi twist that only serves to muddle the story. (On film at least, I haven’t read the book.) It’s theme of love conquering all is well played out, but the flat performance from leading man Eric Bana casts a pall over the whole movie.
Bana has been in my bad books for some time now, although he redeemed himself recently with a star turn as the bad guy in Star Trek. Unfortunately The Time Traveler’s Wife was shot before Star Trek gave him a boost on the old charisma meter. His work here is understated to the point of indifference. Henry should be one of the wonders of the world, a man who can jump from year to year, but instead is played as a mope; a sad sack crippled by his remarkable ability.
Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, underplays the role of Clare, but instead of disappearing into the fabric of the film as Bana does, brings subtlety and grace to the character. When she tells her friend about Henry’s condition, adding, with rueful understatement, “It’s a problem,” she shows us a vulnerable side to Clare, the side that realizes her life will never be normal, but also the side that knows she is powerless to change her situation. It’s a nice, quiet performance that conveys the power of her love for Henry and the frustration of the predetermination of her fate.
But it takes two to tango and unfortunately no matter how lovely McAdams’s performance is, she’s twirling around an empty dance floor. The themes from the book are firmly in place but there is no real spark between the actors.
Don’t bother with the Kleenex for this one.