Friday, September 4, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Released August 14, 2009

When it’s done right, time travel is the coolest phenomenon ever, and makes for an incredible movie. The “Back to the Future” trilogy is the quintessential example of effective cinema time travel, and “The Butterfly Effect” is one example of a fresh, different, darker take on the implications of bending the space-time continuum. Recent follies like “Heroes” have failed in the way that they emphasize the uncontrollable nature of people being unwillingly pulled away in time, with time passing as normal while they’re away. This movie falls safely in the latter category, but that’s the least of its transgressions.

From its title, the film would seem to chronicle the extraordinary life of a woman whose husband is able to transcend the boundaries of time but who herself is forced to live out a lonely chronological existence. The second part is true – she is doomed to be abandoned by this man unstuck in time – but it isn’t her story. The time traveler is the focal point of the story, which is even more of a shame since this could have been a unique take on time travel, and, tragically, it’s a flop. No new territory is explored, and it’s a generally uninteresting look at nothing much in particular.

The most stressed facet of time-traveling hero Henry’s “condition” is that his clothes don’t come with him when he’s whisked away by unknown forces to a mysterious new time period. He’s not conveniently equipped with plot-defying purple shorts that somehow stay attached to him like another one of actor Eric Bana’s rather green movie characters. This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t the focal point of the film. The most constantly repeated fact about Henry’s time-traveling is that he has to run from the police because he ends up everywhere naked. Talk about getting bogged down in the details, and truly missing the point of what could have been a fascinating meditation on a life sent out of whack by an inability to stay grounded in time.

It’s been stated by some that the source material for the film was poor to begin with, and perhaps that should be blamed for the film’s unimpressive quality. Yet much of the finger-pointing should be directed at the casting choices. Eric Bana doesn’t have much to offer when he’s playing an American – he was so infinitely better in his small role “Funny People” when he donned his native Australian accent – and that really hinders the film. He never seems sure of what he’s going to say, and each of his lines look like they’ve been so carefully and painfully delivered. Ron Livingston’s presence in this film as Henry’s best friend is a huge misstep, and his supposed purpose as comic relief falls unbelievably flat. And then there’s the lovely Rachel McAdams, who has outdone her material lately (“State of Play” and “The Lucky Ones”) and should really be given better roles and scripts where she can showcase her incredible talents (look instead at “Red Eye,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Mean Girls,” and “The Notebook”).

The disappearing-Henry effects in the film are absolutely laughable, and that takes away greatly from the saddening effect Henry’s inevitable departure is supposed to create. Much of the film is corny in the same way, and the characters’ uniform acknowledgment of Henry’s condition as an unchangeable, unscientific fact is lackluster and makes the film less than engaging. Simply put, there’s no new ground covered here, and everyone merely accepts that Henry time-travels and that’s just the way it is. It’s problematic because Henry’s story just isn’t that interesting, and as the same thing happens over and over with no surprises or clever end points, the movie loses all its merits. Nothing about “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is particularly attractive or enticing, and just because the lead moves throughout time, that doesn’t mean his tale is worth telling.


No comments: