Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Movie Review - The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
Based on the book by: Audrey Niffenegger
Release Date: August 14th, 2009
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Ron Livingston
Rating: ★★

I must first preface my review with this, I hated the book. I wanted to like it, really I did, but I hated the characters, I hated every single thing about them and at times I found the book verging on the creepy. I know many people will disagree with me, that's fine, that's your opinion, I'm just telling you the facts so you know where I come from in reviewing this adaptation. Anyway, you might find it odd, as a hater of the book, that I willingly went to the movie. Well...I was hoping that some of the issues I had with the book would be ironed out in the process of adapting it, plus I love Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. I was partially right, I liked the movie more than the book, but I still have issues.

If you aren't familiar with the plot of the book it's a "dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant." In other words, Clare has always known Henry, from when she was young, and knew that they would eventually be together while Henry jumps about in time. Epic romance, yaddayadda. The predestination, yeah, it's kind of sweet, put also kind of creepy. Clare's been in love with an older version of Henry and when they finally meet for the first time in his chronology she has to re-adjust to young Henry. It all has a bit of the ick factor with two peoples chronologies being all messed up with each other, an older version of Henry actually marrying Clare because the current Henry has gone elsewhere.

But what about the adaptation? The bones of the book are there, but I think they didn't explain themselves enough. You were kind of thrown right into the story, and in the book, which is written with Clare and Henry being duel narrators to ease the narrative transitions, this is gone in the movie. Instead you get kind of a mash up of everything without any explanation. In fact I was thinking due to the diary nature of the book I'm surprised they didn't employ some voice over narration, which would have fixed some of the bumps. They never go into the why these two people, why certain places, times, events, or what really is the cause. There is no questioning and it's just either as a viewer you have to accept it and move on or go read the book. As Ebert said: "They deal with these difficulties by not dealing with them at all." Also everything seems kind of drained of emotion, it's very wooden almost, which I blame on the director, because I have seen these two act well, Slings and Arrows anyone? Also there where little funny parts, like with the lottery ticket...which were the only scenes where you could really see the actors connecting. I think it needed some more infusion of dark humor. Just because this is a timeless love story that is destined to end doesn't mean you can't have a laugh.

In the end the thing that annoyed me most is that the two of them were so insulated in their own little world. Their families take on background roles. Clare's childhood home, which is a character onto itself in the book is just a place. Plus this is set in Chicago, could we get some nice cinematic shots of the city occasionally? In the end, they took so much away, emotion, familial connections, location, that you are left with this little microcosm of two people who have been almost taken out of time, and that doesn't work. While Henry IS a man out of time, Clare is very much living her life linearly, and they did not successfully convey this feeling of her isolation and loneliness. She is separated from Henry but not the rest of the world. She must face the world on a day to day basis uncertain of Henry's fate, and this central concept was lost in the movie.

As a final note, it's not surprising to me that the movie is 36% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. If you were a fan of the book you are probably pissed at all that was omitted. And if you weren't a fan, there's nothing really there to engage you. Final note, the few things omitted that I'm glad about. They didn't make Gomez nearly as creepy or letching on Clare as in the book. Also Henry's self-love as a teenager, really glad that was gone too.


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