Since the very earliest movies, their ability to compress or expand time and space has appealed to screenwriters and directors and provided film editors with an opportunity to show off their skills. So it’s no surprise that “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling 2003 romantic novel, was made into a movie. This is a chick flick with a sci-fi twist, one which will daunt you if you’re looking for logic and coherence. But, hey, that’s not what movies are usually about.
The film starts with young Henry DeTemble escaping a Christmas season car crash that kills his opera singer mother. He is reassured by a stranger who tells him that everything’s going to be OK: he knows this because he is Henry’s older self.
Cut to Chicago in spring, an unspecified number of years later. The adult Henry (Eric Bana), a research librarian, runs into Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), a gorgeous artist who claims that he is the love of her life and has been she was six. Naturally, this puzzles Henry, but he sets a dinner date with her for that night. (She somehow knows his favorite restaurant, too.)
When he turns up an hour late, she understands. See, she knows that Henry’s been “time-travelling,” and that he really can’t help himself. Why Henry doesn’t know her already—he’s been doing this almost all his life!—is not explained, like much else in the movie. (I warned you to check your logic in the lobby.)
Anyway, they go his bachelor pad, tear each other’s clothes off, and—this being a “PG-13” movie--we cut to the next morning. Rachel tells Henry that they met in a meadow behind her house when she was a little girl and he turned up naked (this IS a chick flick, but we only glimpse Bana’s buns) in some nearby bushes. Both of them return to this idyllic setting several times, the movie being chockfull of foreshadows and, er, flashbacks. Henry’s uncontrollable propensity to disappear suddenly then rematerialize minutes or hours later in an older or younger version of himself leads to some awkward moments, for instance on their wedding day and night. The de-materializing itself is kinda nifty, though, and director Robert Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin manage to wring some humor out of these recurring fadeouts/fadeins.
Naturally, the ensuing marriage is rife with problems, but True Movie Love seems to conquer all, even, it suggests, transcending death. (It might help to know that Rubin got an Oscar for his screenplay of “Ghost.”) Bana doesn’t quite have the dramatic chops to involve us deeply in his character; McAdams, though, brings credibility to a (literally) incredible role.
I was the only one in the theater on an admittedly gorgeous late summer afternoon for “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” It looks like a good date movie: if you want to see it, check to make sure it’s still in town. And bring some Kleenex.