I never thought a movie about a guy trying to maintain a marriage while involuntarily time-traveling could possibly be worth squat. The commercials for The Time Traveler's Wife were making me gag, so I didn't sit down for the movie with a big bag of faith resting on my lap. It looked like it was going to be stupid.
Well, it is stupid, but it's the good kind of stupid. A cast of fine actors lock themselves into that stupid premise, and the results are charming, sometimes funny—and even a little bit heartbreaking.
Henry DeTamble (played winningly by Eric Bana) is afflicted with some sort of gene disorder that causes him to time-travel, often without warning. He'll be carrying dishes to a dinner table, or jumping on his bed for honeymoon festivities, and off he goes: He feels a tingly sensation and then zips through time, leaving his clothes behind. He shows up in different times in the past and the future, stark-naked like Arnie in the Terminator movies.
Henry often travels to the same places at different times, and one of his main stomping grounds is a sunny meadow where his future wife, Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams, no stranger to a good love story), often recreates. When Henry meets Clare as a child, he is already married to her in the future, so this causes some confusion. It also leads to a naked man talking to a young girl who has never met him before.
A side note to any young girls reading this: If a naked man should ever meet you in a meadow and tell you he is your future husband, please kick him in the balls, and scream for help. He is lying and certifiably nuts.
This ridiculous stuff works well within the confines of director Robert Schwentke's movie, because Bana and McAdams treat it like reality. While Clare gets a little whiny when Henry misses Christmas or a dinner, they don't spend too much time wallowing in the misery. They are convincingly in love, with some extenuating circumstances that they have chosen to deal with, for better or for worse.
Bana is having a good summer. His brief but powerfully funny performance as the confused husband in Funny People is still playing at theaters, and his work here further proves he's an actor with great range. Most actors would've really screwed up this role, but Bana hits the right notes throughout the film. Henry winds up being a well-balanced character, all things considered. While the whole time-traveling thing can be a bit frustrating, he also acknowledges it as a sort of gift. Hey, anybody who gets to marry Rachel McAdams doesn't have a whole lot to complain about.
McAdams was in a little mini-slump since her fun performance in 2005's The Family Stone, but this one gets her back on track. The script forces her to make Clare a little whiny and selfish at one point, and that's a little tiresome. Thankfully, the screenplay and McAdams recover for a satisfying conclusion. She can put this one alongside The Notebook as being one of her best works.
The Time Traveler's Wife reminded me of another preposterous but effective love story, The Lake House, a silly movie made entertaining by two performers who know how to work their material. Bana and McAdams are one of this year's more effective and enchanting screen duos. Just don't go looking for something logical, because you're bound to be let down.