Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Time Traveller's Wife (2009) Film Review
The Time Traveller's Wife
Reviewed by: James Benefield
Imagine you are a bride at a wedding, and your young, devilishly handsome groom turns up late, looking ten years older and with grey hair. It’s not cold feet, as he returns after a short disappearance a while later for the first dance, with no grey hair, a fresh face and no recollection of the ceremony whatsoever. Sounds like an unimaginable nightmare? Well, perhaps, as you are about to marry a time traveller.
Indeed, the key to enjoying The Time Traveller’s Wife is to be like the bride Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams); patient and forgiving. Its helter-skelter plot is two parts whirling and wondrous to one part intense frustration. As much as it can be described, it’s a love story between aspiring artist Claire and librarian Henry (Eric Bana). Claire meets Henry first when she is six years old. He time travels, naked, to a field near her parents’ house and demands from the rather shocked younger Claire, her picnic blanket, so he can hide his shame. But, to confuse things, Henry doesn’t first meet Claire until he is well into his twenties, whilst he is working in a downtown Chicago library. She knows him well already, but his time travelling has yet to extend to meeting his future wife.
The film is based on a much-loved sprawl of a novel, told in a non-linear, almost arbitrary fashion. It values strong characterisation and emotional, psychological links in events over logic, reason and flawless, linear plotting. With the strength of Audrey Nifnegger’s character-led conviction, the plot holes and lapses of logic dotted through the tale seem trivial, playing down the sci-fi/fantasy element from which most of these flaws derive. The reader is forced to focus on love, and ultimately the book questions the extent to which anyone gets to fully know their partner, and the importance of this, and time, in a relationship.
Condensing something this chaotic into the necessarily ordered nature of a Hollywood movie is problematic. One issue is how to shape the narrative. The film largely follows Bana’s character, unlike the book’s greater focus on Claire. A seemingly sensible decision; Bana is the bigger name, it does something to combat accusations of this being a ‘chick flick’, and this change in focus is a definite attempt to help the audience grow closer to this more enigmatic figure (he is so enigmatic, in fact, that we’re never told how his condition developed, aside from it being ‘genetic’). Proceedings work as well as they do due to the strength of Bana’s performance. His expressive eyes, not to mention his good looks, which could melt glaciers, will break many an audience’s heart. McAdams fares well too, providing a generally likeable, empathic presence.
Ultimately the film doesn’t work because its focus is all wrong; perhaps it should have been re-titled The Time Traveller And His Wife. The emphasis on Henry subdues the more upsetting, emotive elements of the story (the section concerned with the couple’s experiences of conceiving a child, especially), suppressing our level of involvement in Claire’s emotional pain. Another result of removing extraneous character material is that the underwritten, and generally fairly unconvincing, sci-fi element of the story really shows, and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin fails to recognise this and adapt the material accordingly.
It’s a likeable movie, which benefits from Bana’s sensitive performance. However, by ordering such fundamentally chaotic material, it exposes the deeply flawed and rather flimsy nature of its project. The film is ultimately ill-conceived as it fails to register the importance of its central female character, resulting in a movie which is no more than fleetingly touching, rather than achingly romantic. Gus van Sant was originally mentioned in relation to this adaptation, and perhaps his art-house sensibility would have served the story in a more satisfying way.Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2009