Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

November 7, 2009 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

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I had been wanting to watch the big screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife ever since I heard it was being made (it was actually optioned by Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt before the novel was even published).

It is such a beautiful book, taking a seemingly ridiculous, science-fictionesque premise to deliver a tragic love story that somehow works.  One of those rare stories that made the outrageous feel normal because the characters and what they felt for each other was so painfully real.

I’m glad to say that the film version, while not perfect by any means, is very good, capturing the essence of the relationship between Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana), a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to unintentionally and periodically time travel, and Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams), the girl he was destined to fall in love with.

Of course, the success of a movie like this depends largely on the performances of the leads.  When I first heard that Eric Bana was cast as Henry, I was sceptical because he didn’t appear to fit the novel’s description.  But as I watched him, it became clear to me that he was spot on for the role.  He captures Henry’s love, pain and fear so well in a wonderfully controlled performance.  On the other hand, it doesn’t matter who Rachel McAdams plays.  She is so sweet, beautiful and classy that it’s not hard to believe anyone will fall madly in love with her.

However, a person’s enjoyment of the movie may well depend on how much they can accept the time travelling premise.  If you find the idea stupid, then it’s unlikely you’ll give the film much of a chance.  I think it’s quite possible for someone, especially if they haven’t read the book, to get a bit confused with all the travelling back and forth through time.  It’s easy to put up your hands and say ‘this is all too silly’ and let it overshadow the central love story.  On the other hand, if you can overlook some of the unexplained holes in the logic and just accept the premise (a pre-requisite for sci-fi films), then you may find yourself absorbed in Henry and Claire’s complex relationship.  For me personally, it was the type of film where the flaws become easier to forgive because it knows how to tug the heart strings.

Keeping in mind that the novel is 546 pages and spans a lifetime, the film adaptation is surprisingly short, clocking in at only 108 minutes.  This naturally means that the film lacks the full emotional depth of the novel (few films can match the novel in that regard anyway).  In condensing the book to fit the screen, characters were cut, roles were reduced and subplots were canned.  Nevertheless, I believe this actually worked in the film’s favour rather than against it.  It kept the focus solely on Claire and Henry’s relationship, and prevented the story from dragging on too long, which it did start to feel towards the final quarter.  It would have been very easy to make this a 2 hour 45 minute-plus movie, but I applaud the restraint from director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) in keeping the running time manageable.  Trying to be truthful to the source material while keeping the film from being overlong can be a tough balance, but for the most part I think Schwentke and screenwriters Jeremy Leven (The Notebook) and Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) did a decent job in the circumstances.

Perhaps I am a little biased because I’m a big fan of the two leads, but I believe  The Time Traveler’s Wife is a solid adaptation of a novel that was extremely difficult to adapt.  Those who are fans of the novel will likely either love it or hate it.  As for newcomers to this story, I’m not sure, but judging from the number of red, watery eyes I witnessed stepping out of the cinema (including my wife’s), my guess is that more people than not will be moved by it.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I was surprised that the film relied mostly on make-up and not technology to show the aging process (which, after Benjamin Button, we know can do an extraordinary job).  Unfortunately this means the physical transformations of the characters are not as pronounced as they could have been.]