"The Time Traveler's Wife" is a romantic drama with a gimmick that fails absolutely. The gimmick borrows an iconic trope from science fiction " time travel " and director Robert Schwentke ("Flightplan") and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin ("The Last Mimzy"), working from Audrey Niffenegger's novel, are stuck with it.
From the time he was 6, Henry (Eric Bana, "Funny People") has been zipped through time. He can't control his travels. One minute, he's having a normal conversation; the next, he's in a strange place sometime in the past or future, naked as a jaybird.
Inconvenient, yes? Fortunately, he never pops up on second base during a World Series game or on the balcony next to the pope during Christmas Mass. Why? I guess the messed-up gene that causes this is kind in its own odd way.
This peculiar gene is alluded to, but not defined. We're also not given an explanation for the fact that Henry travels not only through time, but also through space. How does that work, exactly?
So he's working as a reference librarian when Clare (Rachel McAdams, "State of Play") comes to him for help. She knows him instantly, but he hasn't a clue about her. Call the time of this meeting Point A. At sometime after Point A, he will travel to the past and meet Clare when she is 6. He pops in on her for the next 12 years, watching her grow up, but since their first meeting came after Point A, he doesn't know her at Point A, but she knows him.
You can actually come to understand and follow all this "Benjamin Button"-lite stuff, but I don't think it's worth the trouble. At heart, this is just a story about the path of true love that does not run smooth. You're not supposed to approach it as science fiction " in other words, you can't expect it to make sense. Adult Henry visits and chats with himself as a child. He talks with his 12-year-old daughter before she is born. The 12-year old daughter plays with her 6-year-old self.
Henry claims that he is unable to change the past, but it seems that the present and future are also unalterable. Either that or Henry simply isn't bright enough to see the holes in the plot. And when you toss the basic laws of physics out the window, there are holes aplenty.
I especially liked the part where Henry gets a winning lottery number from the future, then returns to the present to win $5 million. Why not the $213 million that is currently available from Powerball? A measly $5 million " bah.
But does it work as a romance? I think most people will be so busy trying to figure out what's going on and working on ways to beat Henry's problem if it happened to them, the love story will fall away.
Nothing about the movie but its oversights and improbabilities is strong enough to compel your attention. I wished I could travel two hours into the past and buy a ticket to a different picture.