"The Time Travelers Wife" a serviceable but bland, passionless drama
Being married is difficult enough without one in the couple being a time traveler (though some may in fact wish they had that ability). That issue and more are explored in the new romantic drama "The Time Traveler’s Wife," based on Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling 2003 novel. In spite of two handsome actors and a unique premise, this girl flick is a disappointingly flavorless adaptation of the book, lacking two essential ingredients: passion and empathy.
Chicago research librarian Henry (Eric Bana) has a rare genetic disorder that sends him hurtling through time under extreme duress. In the process of his travels, he meets and falls in love with artist and heiress Clare (Rachel McAdams) and the two forge a unique bond through courtship, marriage and having a family. Despite the fact that Henry vanishes at inordinately frequent and lengthy intervals, he and Clare try to build a future together, even with the considerable challenges that lay ahead.
"The Time Traveler’s Wife" a serviceable but dull, passionless drama, its biggest flaw being an imbalanced script that lacks the fervor to pull off an unusual story like this. The unconventional love story is appealing, not to mention it has two of the prettiest actors on the planet in McAdams and Bana, but the themes of the book didn't carry over to the movie as well, and it ends up focusing heavily on the jumpy, frequent time travels than the central love story itself. The disjointedness of the plot doesn’t allow for a tremendous amount of accessibility, making it difficult to connect with Henry and Clare's inimitable journey.
German director Richard Schwentke ("Flightplan") and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin ("Deep Impact") can't get a good grasp on the story, though they're (along with the rest of us) fully aware of how much the camera loves both McAdams and Bana, who give competent performances in underwritten roles. McAdams (“The Notebook”) in particular gives a revealing turn in what is the trickier role - of the wife frustratingly left behind to experience life alone - she has the ability to communicate with her face by saying few words, a quality that few actors possess. Bana shows a nice sensitive side, showing restraint from his intense turn in "Star Trek" and his humorous side in the recent "Funny People." It's just unfortunate that these characters lack depth to make them genuinely empathetic to the audience.
The whole combination of romance and time travel is an appealing (but often baffling and illogical) one, but not a balanced one in "The Time Traveler’s Wife." Unlike the novel, there's too many episodes where he appears and reappears (and completely naked no less but still PG-13), without much exploration of the couple's romantic side. We know they have deep affection for each other through all of this, but why? Then the whole time travel aspect opens up new but often puzzling issues. If someone goes back in time to visit you, what’s the point? Didn’t you already know they were there? As it is, there are a handful of amusing scenes in its initial episodes (which version of Henry is she making love to?), but as the story progresses you know that there's a ring of tragedy and sadness in the air.
A pair of solid character actors is noteworthy in small roles. Familiar face Arliss Howard (most recently seen in TV's "Medium") has a couple of brief scenes as Henry's unkempt father, and Dallas-site Stephen Toblowsky expresses the right notes of confusion as Henry's confounded doctor.
"The Time Traveler’s Wife" is an adequate but bland romantic drama that would've been far better had it stayed in one place for more than a few moments. Overall, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” falls short of the smoldering tale it could’ve been and without the lovely McAdams and the ruggedly handsome Bana providing some nice eye candy, it would’ve been far worse.