Acting is all about finding the "truth" in a character and a situation, and delivering your lines with conviction - becoming the part. I kept thinking about Bana, as his Henry goes caroming around from his young 20s to his mid-30s, meeting up with Clare when she's a wee, wide-eyed lass (played by the charming Brooklynn Proulx) or with McAdams' Clare as she stumbles on Henry one day in the Chicago Public Library. Henry doesn't remember Clare then, but that doesn't stop her from announcing that "I've known you since I was 6 years old" and inviting him to meet at his favorite Thai eatery.
How could the actor keep a straight face? How could she? Isn't there a point on the space-time continuum where mawkish hooey and moonstruck inanity collide to form an implosion of cosmic implausibility?
With a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, a veteran scribe with a special expertise in the spiritual and paranormal (see Ghost, see Jacob's Ladder), and directed by the German-gone-Hollywood Robert Schwentke, The Time Traveler's Wife is astounding for the plodding, leaden approach it takes to this wild, woolly idea.
Henry has a genetic defect, you see, a "chrono-impairment" that causes him to slip off without warning to other times, other places. He leaves his clothes in a puddle at his feet and arrives wherever in his birthday suit. It's embarrassing for him, sure, but fine for the Australian hunk's fans in the audience. (It's shocking the lengths Henry will go to clothe himself, however, once he's reached his new destination: He smashes the windows of locked cars, he burglarizes offices and shops. Is this any kind of message to send to our chrono-impaired youth?)
I haven't read Niffenegger's book, so I could be wrong about this, but The Time Traveler's Wife might just be a clever bodice-ripping metaphor about boyfriends and husbands who can't commit to a relationship, who will fly off at a moment's notice, dodging responsibilities and appointments with the in-laws.
And parenting? Forget about it. Who needs to hang around raising a kid when you can go running through the trees, as clothesless and carefree as a monkey with a time machine?
Contact movie critic Steven Rea
at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.