Faithful adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's novel about a man named Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) who suffers from a unique genetic condition that causes him to time travel randomly - across various stages of his own life - for a few minutes, hours, or even days at a stretch, and Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams), the woman who loves him throughout his appearances and disappearances in her life.
Schwentke and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who penned the schmaltzy hit Ghost, a film not dissimilar in tone) mine the story for both humor and tragedy, and while fans of the book will find many details missing, including various subplots involving secondary characters and the darker undertones of the thirtysomething Henry meeting the horny adolescent Claire in her family's meadow, that's only to be expected: it takes a good couple of days to get through the novel, but here you have just 107 minutes to present Henry's unusual condition, show the effect it has on two people trying to have a normal relationship, and tell something of a story. You can't spend much time going into the world that surrounds Henry and Claire.
On the upside, this condensed approach keeps the film lean, and keeps the attention on Niffenegger's inventive and ultimately heartbreaking plot. On the downside, it strips away everything that isn't a part of the author's basic premise and thus sucks a bit of life out of the story.
The two leads don't help: watching The Time Traveler's Wife, I couldn't help but think back to Mean Girls and Chopper, the films that made stars out of Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, respectively. In those early movies, the two actors were both ferociously funny, daring, and energetic. They were eager to show the world what they could do, and as a result they blew audiences away. But today, comfortably ensconced in Hollywood and making millions per picture, their performances reflect the typical "safe" choices that many screen actors make in their work: read the lines, display the appropriate emotions, but don't try anything too far out. The result is that Henry and Claire seem like generic characters who could have been played by anybody.
With Schwentke's equally competent yet unremarkable direction, the star of the show remains Niffenegger's imagination, which is perhaps as it should be. She really did concoct a nifty concept and developed it to its full "what if?" potential. I enjoyed watching The Time Traveler's Wife for this reason. As that rare bird, the sci fi weepie, it delivers the goods. But it was only after it was over that I realized how much the film failed to live up to its potential.