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The Time Traveler's Wife Gets Lost in Translation

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
<i>The Time Traveler's Wife</i> Gets Lost in Translation

DVD Release Date:  February 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  August 14, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for thematic elements, brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality)
Genre:  Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi, Adaptation
Run Time:  107 min.
Director:  Robert Schwentke
Actors:  Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Michelle Nolden, Arliss Howard, Alex Ferris, Brooklynn Prouix

In theory, it sounds wildly romantic to meet your predestined soul mate when you're only six years old.

I mean, it sure beats a string of go-nowhere dates, the hassles of heartbreak or wondering if Mr. or Ms. Right is ever going to show up. But the big problem with our leading lady Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) meeting her forever amour Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) before she's even in second grade is that their meet-cute moment is inevitably more creepy than cute.

See, she's just a precocious six-year-old drawing in her favorite meadow when Henry, naked as a jaybird, mysteriously shows up from his recent travels. Asking the young girl for the blanket she's sitting on so he can cover up, the thirty-something stranger eventually strikes up a conversation with her like it's a completely normal thing to do. You half expect Chris Hansen from those "To Catch a Predator" TV specials to emerge from the nearby trees and intervene. But he doesn't, and Henry explains how he's a time traveler to Clare, who is a bit hesitant to believe him at first. With a little convincing, however, she's completely onboard and trusts him for reasons that aren't ever quite explained. But I guess you're just supposed to simply "go with it" since it's all part of their big romance, right?

Eventually promising to keep his mysterious secret (another big no no that wouldn't get much praise from most parents if that was their daughter), Clare starts documenting every time that Henry shows up in a diary and becomes so attached that she even gets jealous when she discovers that Henry is married (to her in the future, of course).

Sadly, the big-screen adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife is really no more plausible than it was in the pages of Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 far edgier bestseller by the same name. While those who loved the book will probably be happy with the fairly strict adherence to detail in the film, there's still plenty that's lost in translation—like a rhyme or reason to the time travel itself, anything in the way of character development, or depth of human emotion.

Given that women typically like a certain amount of, oh, stability in a relationship, Clare seems to tolerate the inconsistency of life with Henry with little more than an occasional bout of whining because "she didn't have a choice" in the matter. Basically, the movie's logic is that if something is your destiny, you just deal, no matter how difficult it is.

This almost shrugging-your-shoulders emotional response is never more apparent than at the couple's wedding. While many brides and grooms experience a few of those proverbial butterflies because of the huge commitment they're about to make, that's certainly not the case with Clare or Henry. In fact, when a younger version of Henry shows up for their wedding and a much-older, gray-haired incarnation shows up at the altar after the younger Henry disappears just shy of walking down the aisle, Clare doesn't seem the least bit rattled. Instead, the filmmakers cut to a scene of Henry and Clare jumping on the bed, like being married to someone so unpredictable is the most fun a person could ever have.

Flashing back and forward through the couple's life together, Henry and Clare make their best attempt at having a fairly normal life. Or as normal as two people can when one's a time traveler who has to beg, steal and fight for his survival during those random voyages through time. But that doesn't stop them from occasionally using these special circumstances (like winning the lottery because Henry already knows the winning numbers) to their advantage. While the lottery scenario serves as a bit of comic relief in what's a very, very serious movie, the tone immediately shifts again when Henry and Clare start dealing with infertility.

After a couple of miscarriages, Henry decides to get a vasectomy without even consulting his wife so that Clare won't have to get her hopes up, only to be disappointed when they lose yet another baby. Then without telling Henry, Clare takes matters into her own hands and sleeps with a younger version of Henry so she can conceive again, a tactic that actually ends up working when their daughter Alba, also a time traveler, is born. What? Okay, moving on. …

Yet, even as thoroughly ridiculous as this movie is, you still have to give the filmmakers a few props for trying. The Time Traveler's Wife does have a lush, dreamy landscape reminiscent of old-fashioned cinema and Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams certainly try to sell the unconventional romance the best they can with such a banal script. But The Time Traveler's Wife is set up as this big, weepy romance that never provides the audience with a reason to cry. Really, the only compelling reason for shedding a tear is because you've wasted nearly two hours of your life watching two talented actors who deserve much better. But hey, at least they got paid, while you're still out 20 bucks and time better spent doing something, well, anything else.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Henry's father abuses alcohol, his way of coping with the loss of his wife and Henry's mother. When Henry drinks too much, it usually leads to time traveling.
  • Language/Profanity:  Several instances of the Lord's name taken in vain plus a smattering of additional expletives.
  • Sex/Nudity:  There are a couple of sex scenes involving Henry and Clare, before and after they are married. After one encounter, Clare's bare backside is shown. Also, whenever Henry time travels, he's naked whenever he gets back (and his backside is shown in several scenes).
  • Violence:  Henry's mother dies in a tragic car crash, a disturbing scene that replays in Henry's head several times. Henry is shot, something that's foreshadowed earlier in the movie and reappears later on. Because he's got nothing in the way of food, clothing or money when he time travels, Henry robs stores, homes and pickpockets other people to get by, causing him to get taken into police custody a couple of times (he conveniently disappears before anything can be done about it, though).

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.