Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana
It’s not easy being a time traveller. You jump forwards, back, never knowing if you’re coming or going. And when you get there, you can’t take your clothes with you. Poor naked Henry (Bana). Still, he can always find a small girl to give him a blanket. Because that’s a wholesome thing to do.
It’s not easy being a time traveller’s wife, either. You sit around, wondering when he’ll next turn up, what he’ll look like, where he’s been. Poor lonely Clare (McAdams) is stuck in stasis for most of her relationship with the chrono-hopping Henry. Clinging to memories of meetings past, the older Clare is frustrated, happy in fleeting moments. The younger her, meanwhile, sits in a field, wondering when the naked man will next jump out of the trees at her.
It happens quite early on, their first meeting. Peeking out the bulrushes at Clare’s tea party, he announces himself as from the future. Then points out that he has no clothes. Ickle Clare believes him. Poor girl – she doesn’t know about stranger danger. So when he tells her they’re destined to be together, grooming his future bride to be, she gladly goes along with it. It’s a sweet moment, that isn’t in the least bit disturbing.
For him, though, their first meeting is when she’s much older – and, as luck would have it, legal. She approaches Henry in a library, knowing everything about him; now the stalker shoe is on the other foot. It’s only a matter of hours before they wine, dine, and do the dirty. Then he disappears.
And boy, does he love to do that. Fading out in true sentimental style (a handprint here, a pile of clothes there), he pops into the ether with near-perfect timing. Give him a dinner plate and poof! He’s gone, spilling salsa all over the floor. Moments later, he reappears, sporting more grey hairs, or perhaps a mullet – at one point his haircut switches from Tom Cruise in M:I-2 to Richard Gere’s Runaway Bride, via Pretty Woman of course.
It is a wonder he never teleports in public. You’d think someone would spot him at least once and call in the CIA or something. But that wouldn’t be true to Audrey Niffenegger’s novel. A tragedy-tinged tale of transitory romance, this is all about our two temporally twined leads. They do a pretty decent job with the material, keeping the basic premise on the cusp of being believable, if not emotionally engaging.
Still, they pile on the schmaltz, using the timeslips to tackle serious issues such as fertilisation, free will, and sex (can you cheat on someone with their younger self?). The script (from Ghost’s Bruce Joel Rubin) is a little laboured, but it just about works – an inventive demise for Henry and the occasional genuine laugh are welcome touches. Director Robert Schwentke, meanwhile, keeps the visuals pretty enough for the fidgety members of the audience.
The result is a curious cinema romance, slightly different to the usual weepy fare. It’s no Eternal Sunshine, but it’s certainly better than Benjamin Button: at one point, Henry turns to Clare, asking “Is it too weird?” Even if it is, The Time Traveller’s Wife unfolds with a likeable tone – if you don’t weep at the sad bits, you can always laugh at Eric Bana’s bum. It turns up 5 times.
More saccharine than scientific, The Time Traveller’s Wife is neither here nor there – much like its protagonist. Still, it’s moderately enjoyable. Worringly so.