A date-movie that doesn't disappoint

Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2009

T he trailer for "The Time Traveler's Wife" hooked me long ago. For crying out loud, every time I saw that preview, whether it was online or onscreen, I wound up crying out loud. I wish I were joking. There has not been a more obvious date-movie to come along in quite a while, unless you are on Sandra Bullock's bandwagon; she seems to have about four movies coming out in the next few months.

Naturally, the fiancée came with me to "The Time Traveler's Wife." We were both expecting to cry plenty, but we also should have known our heads would begin to hurt almost immediately. After all, the phrase "time traveler" is included in the freaking title! It is a familiar confusion if you saw, for example, "Terminator Salvation." Usually, when I try to explain movie plots involving time travel, I quickly begin to resemble a rambling drunk.

Nevertheless, I'll give it a shot. Director Robert Schwentke starts us out in a car with a young boy (I thought it was supposed to be young Rachel McAdams at first, but that's neither here nor there) and his mother. It feels ominous despite the obvious affection between the boy and his mom, which is why I said to my fiancée, "I really hope there's not a car crash coming up."

There is, indeed, a car crash. And it is definitely tragic. It's tragic with a twist, though, as the boy vanishes into thin air in front of his terrified mother's eyes mid-car crash. He materializes, naked, in his own living room where he, his mother and father are having a discussion. In a flash, and still naked, he is back on the scene of the car crash. He is not in the car, but rather on the snowy street several yards away watching his mother's car slip and slide on the ice.

Confusing, yes?

We're not done yet. As the young boy stands there trying to understand what's happening, Eric Bana shows up and wraps a blanket around the kid. Trying to comfort the boy even as his mother's car explodes in a fiery crash nearby, Bana informs the boy that he is him. From the future. Yep, they are both Henry DeTamble.

That is just the opening five minutes of "The Time Traveler's Wife."

From there things get more interesting, and way more confusing. Henry, the Eric Bana aged version of him, is a Chicago librarian with a bit of a drinking problem. It's understandable that he drinks, if you ask me. What I haven't mentioned about our time traveler yet is that he has no control over where or when he travels. It just happens. He's working in the library one minute, and without warning he's somewhere else, some time else, stark naked. His routine then consists of doing whatever is necessary to find clothes and bide his time until he travels back to present day. It's a stressful gig!

Clare (Rachel McAdams) is his saving grace. Their complex, pre-ordained love story is what makes the whole thing go. It helps, too, that both Bana and McAdams are superb actors. I suspect that the task of turning Audrey Niffenegger's novel into a film must have at times seemed daunting. Still, on the whole, I applaud both Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin. The movie works.

There are some laughs, and there are definitely some tears. My only real complaint with "The Time Traveler's Wife" is that because everything does turn out to be destined and unchangeable... the feeling you're left with is the uncomfortable one of helplessness.

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