The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, is one of my favorite books, so I was both excited and nervous about the movie. Movies tend to slaughter the great books on which they are based, and I didn’t want to see that happen with The Time Traveler’s Wife. “Slaughtered” is too extreme a word to describe what screenwriters Jeremy Leven and Bruce Joel Rubin did to The Time Traveler’s Wife, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t take what was great about The Time Traveler’s Wife and bury it.
First, a postive remark: Visually, the tone of The Time Traveler’s Wife is true to the book. It captures the essence of the book in the warm, picturesque, longing shots; lonely snowflakes, a lingering handprint on a window pane, the bright, youthful, painfully innocent glow of Henry and Clare’s meetings in the meadow. The filmmakers did, however, make an expensive error in their depiction of Clare’s parent’s home; their vision was much more New England wealthy and much less Midwest/Southeast Michigan wealthy.
But other than being a vaguely pretty film, The Time Traveler’s Wife is mostly a snore. The film is primarily exposition. They lay out troubles and plot points but give no indication of the stakes, vastly under-utilizing Rachel McAdam’s ability to convey complex emotion and failing to tap into her character’s simmering rage and frustration. They gloss over it as, “pretty little artist is alone and sad! she misses her hottie husband!” The one time when they allow a scene to address the issue of Clare’s lack of self-determination, McAdam’s softballs it, coming across as a sweet girl with a problem instead of somebody who has been drop-kicked by fate.
The biggest problem in The Time Traveler’s Wife wasn’t the time constraint of trying to boil a 546 page novel into 2 hours or less of film, but in trying to turn a book about adults with adult problems into a romantic PG-13 film. They took out all the drugs and sex and Henry’s general self-abuse and asked the audience to just accept that Henry used to drink, but Clare asked him to stop and that was all there was to it! The film was very Hollywood: You can have boring people with an interesting problem, or interesting people with a boring problem, and boring people with boring problems, but never interesting people with interesting problems.
While I could see Rachel McAdams as a great Clare when I initially heard of her being cast, her delivery was muted and her material was stale. Eric Bana was miscast as Henry. He looks every inch the romantic hero, but he has no bite to him. Ron Livingston, cast as Henry and Clare’s friend, would have been a better Henry; he’s just a little bit naughtier, and even with the dull script, he would have made Henry’s character a bit more interesting.
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