The Time Traveler’s Wife, adapted from the 2003 best-seller by Audrey Niffenegger, is one of those gooey romantic mind-benders, like Ghost (which I adored) or The Lake House (not so much), in which a couple must come to grips with some trippy impediment to their relationship, such as life after death or a hole? in the space-time continuum. Only instead of being milked for elaborate science-fiction thrills, the problem at hand gets treated as a weepy and grandiose inconvenience. Sort of like the metaphysical version of having a husband who takes too many business trips.
Henry (Eric Bana) is deeply, and eternally, in love with Clare (Rachel McAdams), and ?she with him. The only problem is that he has a ”genetic anomaly” that causes him to skip around through time without warning. All of a sudden, he will melt out of the present and pop up…somewhere else, in the future or in the past, without a stitch of clothing on, so that he must scramble for cover and regain his bearings. Then, just as suddenly, he’ll pop back into Clare’s life — sometimes when he’s too young a man to have any idea who she is. (A little confused? So was I.) More jarringly, he sometimes appears when he’s an adult and she’s an adoring young girl standing in a ? pastoral meadow. That’s when she falls in love with him — which is meant to be innocent, but comes off as a bit unintentionally creepy. I mean, is the movie supposed to look like a contemporary version of The Lewis Carroll Story? To muddle matters further, Henry is seen at assorted ages, but except for the moment when he shows up at his wedding with sudden streaks of gray in his hair, Bana looks exactly the same in every scene.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is built as a game that the audience learns to play, and after a while, yes, we do get the hang of it. That is, we accept the film’s mixture of the playful ?and the slightly arbitrary; we become romantic time travelers too. Although the script is by Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote Ghost, the film’s mood doesn’t change very much; it’s gentle, wistful, gauzy, and placid. Bana, so fantastic in Munich, has always had to work overtime to prove that an actor who looks like the Aussie gym-rat version of Rodin’s The Thinker ?can play a gentle, unassuming regular guy. But he does nicely here. He and McAdams are sweet together, with matching dimples and starry eyes, and we grow eager to see them remain in the same place. In the end, that’s all there is to the movie, really. It’s a time-travel fantasy in search of a cozy love seat. B?