I read Audrey Niffenegger's bestseller at the tail end of 2004, and having seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind earlier in the year, thought it would make for an excellent reunion piece: Michel Gondry's directorial whimsy coupled with Charlie Kauffman's playful way with the story's time jumping narrative, and Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as the time-crossed lovers.
Alas, the studio behind this film version didn't get my memo, so instead we have at the helm German director Robert Schwentke, best known for the Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan, and Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as our lovers. Fine actors on any given day, the pair do the best they can with what they've been given but as often proves the case, a great book rarely makes for a great movie.
Unlike Dr Who, travelling through time and space in his police box, Henry (Bana) has a rare genetic disorder which sees him disappear from the “present”, and mostly at inopportune times, to other times of significance in his life. Another unfortunate side effect of this travel is that he arrives sans clothes. When reading the book, I thought nothing of a 30-year-old Henry walking naked from the woods to greet a 6-six-year old Clare (the future McAdams); on-screen however, and even in the buff guise of Bana, it's more than a little creepy.
We first meet the adult Clare in the Chicago library where Henry works. Due to the marvels of time travel, Clare knows exactly who he is (she's known him since she was 6) but Henry has not met her before. But a romance ensues and despite Henry's constant disappearances (a metaphor for male commitment phobia, perhaps?), sometimes for weeks on end, the pair marry. This sequence is the film's lightest; the writer and director relinquishing the earnest tone of the rest of the film to have some fun with the time travel concept, not to mention the characters as well as the expectations of the audience (mostly female) who love a good wedding.
But the earnestness soon returns and somewhat ironically for a film about time travel, a great deal of inertia comes with it. The trials and tribulations of domestic life – Henry's continued disappearances, Clare's career as an artist, the pair's tentative attempts at starting a family – are rendered no more fascinating despite Henry's condition, nor the appearances of another visitor from the future.
Niffenegger's novel is essentially a romance with the time travel element giving the story an “epic” feel, something which the film lacks and admirers of the novel may feel less than satisfied with as a result. That said, for fans of romance, or indeed Bana and McAdams, The Time Traveller's Wife may prove a pleasant time filler. For me, I'll content myself by playing scenes from my own version, with Jim, Kate et al, in the cinema in my mind.