‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’

Time is on my side


One of our most common romantic notions is that of destiny, the idea that there is in fact one perfect soul mate out there who we are fated to meet. Most of us get this notion drilled out of us the hard way, through a couple of failed, bitter, find-all-your-stuff-piled-outside-the-door relationships, but the illusion is remarkably persistent. Like the afterlife or change in Washington, it’s something we have a deep need to believe in, even if we know better.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife,” opening locally as “Kimi ga Boku o Mitsuketa Hi,” is one of those films that infects us with such beliefs — a romantic tearjerker that aligns itself entirely with the notion of predestiny. I bet if you asked director Robert Schwentke what “free will” is, he’d tell you to go see that kids movie about the whale.

The Time Traveler's Wife
Director Robert Schwentke
Run Time 107 minutes
Language English

In what is basically the chick flick version of “The Terminator,” Eric Bana plays a guy named Henry with a genetic disorder that causes him to occasionally and randomly flash backward in time, which is nowhere near as cool as the genetic disorder that allows you to shoot power beams from your eyes, but like I said, this is a chick flick.

When Bana zaps back in time, he turns up naked — unlike “The Hulk,” he doesn’t have magical purple pants here — and always has to scramble to find some threads. On one such time-slip he meets a little girl named Clare in a field who gives him a blanket to cover himself. Clare doesn’t know it yet, but she will become Henry’s lover in the future. Henry is drawn back to important events in his life, and she’s one of them; his older self will keep popping up like a jack-in-the-box as Clare grows up. Eventually, a 20-something Clare (Rachel MacAdams) will meet the young adult Henry who, at that point in his life, doesn’t know who she is yet, and the shoe’s on the other foot.

Is any of that making sense? Yes, well, Bruce Joel Rubin’s script tries very hard to evoke the same pathos as his previous hit (1990’s “Ghost”), but it doesn’t sweat the details. Henry explains, for example, that he can’t use his powers to alter events in his life — even his own mother’s death in a car crash — but he does manage to memorize a lottery number from the future and plays it to win a few million dollars; so why couldn’t he tell his mom to turn left instead of right? Well, because then he wouldn’t have any “issues” to work out over two hours. A good time travel flick — say, “12 Monkeys” — always needs to play by the “rules” it establishes, but it seems like “The Time Traveler’s Wife” can’t be bothered.

But who needs to make sense, when you’ve got Eric Bana as your lead, exactly the sort of kind, attentive, vaguely fatherly yet totally ripped hero that this film’s demographic requires. MacAdams, for her part is a bland sort of every-girl, following a familiar journey from wide-eyed romanticism (“I’ve been waiting for him my entire life!”) to dinner-on-the-stove, kid screaming, harried married life, with mucho needy whining about hubby not being there for her.

After yet another of Henry’s sudden disappearances, Clare wails “What’s wrong with me wanting one normal thing in my life?”, a familiar remark that highlights what’s so dull about the film. Romantic difficulties abound in life, and an absent husband is common enough; the device of time-travel certainly doesn’t seem to add much to it, except make it all seem a bit ridiculous, in rather the same way that Benjamin Button’s lessons about life and love didn’t really have much to do with him aging backward. In both cases, a big magic-realist fantasy is established, only to deal with plain vanilla reality in the most schmaltzy, glib and mundane way.

When Henry and Clare share a kiss in front of a sky’s worth of exploding fireworks, the postcard-perfect phoniness of the scene recalled nothing more than bad cliche-reliant TV drama. Pixar’s latest animated film, “Up,” doesn’t open here until December, but that film evokes more truth about relationships, growing old together, and loss in a mere five minutes than “The Time Traveler’s Wife” does in a hundred-plus. Wait for it.