Starring Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality. 107 minutes.
As with Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling novel of the same name, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is being positioned as a mainstream romance rather than as a science fiction film. For those who know better it’s obvious this is both.
Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) discovers at an early age that he can travel in time. He has no control over where or when he goes or how long he stays. He can’t even bring his clothes with him, which leads to him not only being lost but naked, with no idea of when he will return to his “present.” The story makes some attempt to explain this as a genetic defect, but the why and the how aren’t really important. As with the best science fiction – indeed, as with the best books and movies – our focus is on the characters and the issues in their lives.
When Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) first encounters Henry in a research library, it’s an odd moment. She’s known him for years. He’s been visiting her since she was a little girl. She already loves him, knowing they are destined to be together. Henry is meeting her for the first time.
The story is rife with these paradoxes – as when one version of Henry disappears at their wedding and another shows up – but it’s the love story that moves us. Henry comes and goes and Claire can only wonder when he will return. As with any couple they have to make their situation work without ever fully understanding the other person. His time shifting becomes a metaphor for the challenges any couple face in going through life together.
Director Robert Schwentke and writer Bruce Joel Rubin do a nice job of adapting the novel, simplifying and abridging the story but maintaining the spirit of it. Some may object to the changed ending, but what works on the page isn’t necessarily what works on screen. Both leave us with an appreciation of the power of love over time.
As Henry, Bana gets his best role in what’s been a busy summer for him following “Star Trek” and “Funny People.” His Henry plays the cards he’s been dealt. He’s not a superhero, but he’s not a victim either. He has several touching moments late in the film as his character faces his own mortality. As for McAdams, her trajectory towards stardom continues to rise. If you look over her roles in movies like “Mean Girls,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “The Notebook,” “Red Eye,” and “State of Play,” she hasn’t played the same type of character twice. She makes Claire a character who holds us even when she becomes frustrated with Henry’s increasing disappearances.
Ultimately “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is the story of two people who fall in love and won’t let anything get in their way of maintaining that love, including themselves. If you can willingly suspend your disbelief at its premise, you will find yourself moved at this love story for the ages.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.