Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife
is one of my favorite novels of the decade, but I can't say I was surprised by this earnest but lackluster and sometimes unintentionally funny screen adaptation.
On the printed page, when a 40ish, naked man shows up in a meadow and charms a little girl, it's magical and you go with it. On the screen, where it's all so literal, there's no way to avoid the creepiness.
And that's just one of the many, many, many problems here.
As is the case with every other movie in which time traveling is a central component, you cannot avoid the scenes where characters are saying things like, "Let me see if I have this straight..." even as the viewer is experiencing brain-freeze while trying to decipher the logic-bending developments unfolding onscreen. In "The Time Traveler's Wife," Eric Bana's Henry can skip back and forward in time----he can even talk to a younger version of himself----but he cannot alter events and he cannot control when he disappears.
There's also the matter of his clothes. As we learned in the original "Terminator," when you jump the time-space continuum your clothes can't make the trip with you, so every time Henry time-travels, his first order of business is finding shirt/pants/shoes/money.
As an adult, Henry skulks around Chicago, unable to connect with society or forge a meaningful existence because there's always the chance he might disappear and wake up in 1987 or 1992. He drinks a lot, even though drinking seems to trigger the time-travel mechanism. Apparently he has never even attempted to use his powers for the greater good. He's just miserable, waiting around for the next time when he finds himself naked and shivering on the streets of the city.
But then there's Clare (Rachel McAdams as grownup, Brooklynn Proulx as a little girl), who loves Henry unconditionally and brings meaning to his existence. The adult Henry travels back in time to prepare Clare for their meeting later in life, which seems somewhere between unbelievably romantic and manipulative and cruel, depending on your perspective.
Much of "The Time Traveler's Wife" focuses on Clare's unbelievable patience and dedication, as she remains true to Henry despite his disappearing act (including just before the wedding and just before the honeymoon) and the fact that she suffers multiple miscarriages, possibly because their child carries the same genetic disorder Henry has.
Bana and McAdams are of course two of the more attractive people on Earth, but their chemistry doesn't approach the fireworks generated by McAdams and Ryan Gosling in the equally sappy but far less confounding "The Notebook." The script from Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost") forgoes any effort to analyze Henry's condition, save for a ridiculous discussion of Henry's condition as "Chrono-Displacement Disorder." The introduction of a child further muddies the waters and makes Henry, Clare and child seem kookier and creepier than "The Addams Family."
Maybe the source material was simply unworkable as a potential movie. Despite a few genuinely touching moments, "The Time Traveler's Wife" is far too confusing and beyond-loopy to succeed as a supernatural romance. Buy the book. Please.