What makes the book The Time Traveler's Wife so magical is how well it marries two genres: romance and sci-fi. But the big-screen adaptation leans more toward old-fashioned Hollywood love story, with the attendant schmaltz and a touch of slapstick.
Fans of the cherished book — myself included — had many hopes and fears about the film. Although the movie didn't make me swoon, it is satisfying to see the story on screen, and the movie is very sweet in parts. Still, what should be an epic tale and a first-rate tearjerker sadly let me down.
The Time Traveler's Wife unravels the story of Henry, who possesses a genetic defect that causes him to get displaced in time. His wife Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is visiting from a future in which the two are married. Since Henry cannot control when or where he turns up, their love is inherently fated: Clare grows up knowing they will marry, yet when they meet in real time, Henry doesn't know who she is, since he hasn't yet visited Clare's childhood self. So who chooses who? This question lends a graceful mystery and intensity unmatched by most love stories.
As a book, The Time Traveler's Wife pulls off an amazing trick. Though its narrative jumps around, it builds tension as well as or even better than a traditional story arc. We know some of the eventual outcome, but not all of it, as secrets are revealed along the way.
But in its condensing of the couple's early years, the movie loses much of that magic. It reveals too many of the surprising plot points early on and rushes through the blossoming of Clare and Henry's relationship, so it's difficult to believe how deeply this couple is supposed to be in love. Instead, we get a lot of schmoopiness, as both actors do their best to build a believable relationship on the story's weak foundation. The somewhat hokey special effects and weepy musical score don't help, either.
When I noticed Broken Social Scene in a cameo, playing the wedding band at Henry and Clare's wedding, it hit me: this movie isn't edgy enough. It strips away most of the darker elements of the book and loses some of the sci-fi trippy-ness. The story would benefit more from an adaptation in the style of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with its dark quirks and touching truths about love. Sure, time travel is a fantasy, but The Time Traveler's Wife aches for more reality.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.