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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife (**1/2)

August 16. 2009
Former Mean Girl meets former green guy and time is their oyster. Well, not really. Rachel McAdams is The Time Traveler's Wife. The time traveler is Eric Bana, who's had this peculiar affliction since he was six years old. With no rhyme or reason, he'll just fade away and travel to a different point in his life, always arriving in a new time naked and scrambling for clothes. He got really, really good at breaking and entering to find clothes. He's had plenty of time to practice.
The time travel in The Time Traveler's Wife is a crock and the movie makes no bones about it in the very first scene when six year old Bana watches his beautiful songbird mother die in a car accident that he time travels out of, and then meets...himself at about age 35. Older Bana tells younger Bana there was nothing he could do. This shouldn't have happened at all. The classic rules of time travel passed down from sci-fi nerds throughout the generations (I myself mostly learned from Star Trek) dictate that you're not supposed to meet yourself if you travel back through time. Something about the same mass not being able to exist at the same point in time.
Audrey Niffenegger, the author of the novel the movie is based on, has apparently never heard of that rule or just plum ignored it because Bana keeps constantly meeting or seeing past/future versions of himself in his time travels. Niffenegger, however, has apparently watched at least one Terminator movie, because she knew enough that a time traveler has to be naked to move through time. (Director Robert Schwentke doesn't pass up a single opportunity to show us Eric Bana's bare ass. To his credit, he gets McAdams' in there as well.) Niffenegger proves herself to be to time travel what Stephanie Meyer is to vampires, ignoring the basic tenets of her subject's mythology in order to tell her gooey girly love story.
The gooey girly love story, however, is actually pretty good, powered by the movie star wattage of McAdams, who possesses the most winning smile since Julia Roberts was a Pretty Woman. McAdams plays an artist who comes from a rich family, but the attention to detail is so good that like most artists, her hands are usually smudged or dirty. McAdams is worth traveling through time for. Bana, the former Hulk, rankles a little as a romantic lead. He's absurdly not curious about the limits of his abilities and expends shockingly little effort to control or understand them. Beyond realizing he seems to travel to the same points in his life, that his trajectory continually crosses with McAdams', and asking her to leave clothes for him, he's mainly clueless as to his ability. He cannot alter the past, nor does he seem to have a range outside of his life in Chicago. So Bana can't, for example, travel back in time to kill Hitler. Nor can he travel back in time to have dinner with Hitler. Aw, what a gyp.
The movie gets muddled in perspectives of how the characters remember the past. From McAdams' point of view, she first met Bana and fell in love with him when she was six years old. But the movie introduces Bana's first meeting with her while she is in college, at which point she knew all sorts of things about him, but he hadn't yet traveled back in time to meet her when she was six. It gets even more confusing from there, especially when the Time Traveler's Daughter enters the picture. Just how the time traveler came to have a daughter is a wonky affair involving McAdams sleeping with a past(?) version of Bana because the present(?) version of Bana had a vasectomy. The movie plays fast and loose with the ethics, morality, and sheer logic of the time travel that the only sane thing to do if one hopes to enjoy the picture is not think about it. Occasionally, there are moments involving the time travel that do work well, like the scene when Bana meets his mother on a subway train and manages to tell her how much he loves her while concurrently creeping her out. I also liked the meeting at the zoo between Bana and his 10 year old daughter.
The Time Traveler's Wife really derails logic-wise when the prospect of the time traveler's death is introduced. At some point, Bana is shot and dies. His ten year old time traveling daughter tells him so (when she isn't hanging out with her five year old self - we won't even go into how weird that is). Bana's eventual death is supposed to be a heartbreaking moment, but it isn't really because the movie cheats. Apparently, since Bana can meet himself when he time travels, there are countless versions of himself hopping around time. So, even though he "dies", he's not really dead since there's no telling how many Banas of various ages are out there. One meets McAdams and his daughter at the end for the happy finish. The subject of Bana and his daughter's ability being genetic anomalies is introduced, including his being studied by a genetic scientist, but it's hoo-hah that amounts to nothing. Realistically, Bana would be imprisoned in a lab somewhere, dissected, and studied. The movie introduces science in an unwelcome manner and then shoves it aside immediately, treating the time travel like it's magic.
Though I could poke holes in the The Time Traveler's Wife until my own time runs out, the movie is enjoyable as romantic drama despite the many temporal logic boners. Bana and McAdams share some nice chemistry, there are some poignant and romantic moments, Ron Livingston has a few fun scenes as Bana's best friend and the incredulous surrogate for the audience's confusion, and Bana's disappearances are sort of superhero-like in a way. Bana's here-then-gone behavior reminded me of Spider-Man 2, where Peter bails on Mary Jane at the very end to answer a call for help, leaving MJ behind to suffer longingly in his absence. Unfortunately, there is no greater destiny for Bana in The Time Traveler's Wife. His time traveling has no grand purpose or design. He just does, or else there's no story.
Turns out The Time Traveler's Wife is executive produced by Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button himself. At the very least, McAdams and Bana share a romantic time-tossed life together and don't just meet in the middle.