The Time Traveler’s Wife film review: rewind the clock
In The Time Traveler’s Wife Eric Bana plays Henry DeTamble, an unlikeable mope with an uncontrollable tendency to spontaneously melt into nothing and reappear, naked, in another timeframe. As you do.
Rachel McAdams plays his eponymous wife Clare, the ultra tolerant lovesick type who clearly sees in him something nobody else can. Well into this saccharine pseudo tissue box drama from director Robert Schwentke their relationship is seriously tested by Henry’s peculiar affliction, but the viewer’s patience is tested, tried and obliterated long before Clare tussles with the concept that marrying a time travelling ignoramus perhaps wasn’t such a great idea.
Adapted from author Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling novel – which from the evidence here suggests was bound by a thick spine of hardened cheese – this mawkishly sentimental and hopelessly inept romance-drama, stuffed with bad performances, stilted dialogue and preposterous contrivances, is a sickeningly schmaltzy cinema experience with all the depth and emotional gravity of a deep-fried hallmark greeting card.
Eric Bana, whose career so far in Hollywood has with few exceptions amounted to one of the greatest let downs of any exported Australian actor, gives his most embarrassing performance yet, a display of unabashed cheesiness deserving of its own cholesterol warning. There is however one thing the floundering Melbourne lad gets exactly right: the vacuous glare of a man who isn’t quite there; the empty look of a person whose soul has been left behind in another time or place. There is a scene in The Time Traveler’s Wife during which Henry returns from the future with winning lottery numbers; he and wifey then pocket the cash, buy a fabulous new home and a chunk of their integrity vanishes forever. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the parallels between this moment and Bana’s real life decision to sign on the dotted line.
Speaking of integrity, there is something unlikeable and deeply suspect about Henry as a character – and it isn’t just Bana’s dodgy American accent. In one scene Henry visits his wife when she is a wee six years old. The reason for this visit is at best unclear, at worst non-existent but he hides in a bush and, when she asks why he is naked, responds by explaining that “I’m a time traveller. I travel from the future. And when I do, I don’t get to bring my clothes.” Uh-huh. This is the point at which I refrain myself from saying something regrettable, something like suggesting that this is a move right out of Dennis Ferguson’s playbook.
Virtually everything about The Time Traveller’s Wife is transparently contrived to the point of borderline-outrageous implausibility: the premise, the characters, the relationship between Henry and Clare. As sheer tissue box fantasy it feels sloppy and uninspiring, its emotional resonance mushie and grotesque and faux charming, like snot and boogers on a fancily embroidered hanky.
Henry sporadically drifts away to alternate moments in time, but these are limited to those spanning his life so don’t expect any scenes in which Bana does something interesting – like sharing a pint with Napoleon or contributing a half decent performance to Ang Lee’s Hulk. Much like Adam Sandler’s character in Click, Henry has no control over the time travelling process. The plot structure is spread higgledy piggledy, with traditional narrative cause and effect hung out to dry – Henry, for example, meets his child, then Clare gets pregnant and so forth – but instead of doing something interesting with the time-warped format events in the storyline feel prosaic and incidental. There is a preposterous wedding scene in which Henry keeps disappearing and returning from various undefined pasts and futures. This could have been handled playfully but is treated with po-faced sincerity, and it exemplifies the gimmicky tone of the narrative, a commonplace array of events strung together with a pseudo Twilight Zone twist that adds precious little in the way of excitement or intrigue.
The only way I can envision The Time Traveller’s Wife being acceptable for viewing by the general public is if each member of the audience were handed a time travelling device with every ticket purchase. After screenings distressed viewers could then zap back in time and convince themselves not to watch it, in turn creating a fracture in the space/time continuum that could – I am assured by some very reliable sources – ultimately lead to the end of the world as you know it, as I know it and as the punks who produced this dross know it. And if The Time Traveler’s Wife is any indication of the kind of cinema we can expect for future generations, Armageddon begins to look not so unappealing after all.
The Time Traveler’s Wife’s Australian theatrical release date: November 5, 2009.