Sunday 20 May 2012

Time travel films: The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), and Midnight in Paris (2011)

I thought I'd group these together, as they make for an interesting contrast.

The Time Traveler's Wife is yet another film based on a best-selling book which I haven't read. So my review will focus just on the film rather than its relationship to the book.

Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) suffers from a peculiar genetic disorder which causes him to travel in time. This happens at random intervals and he has no control over when it happens, whether he goes forwards or backwards in time or where he arrives, but these events usually last for only a brief period before he returns to the present. One added complication; he can't carry anything with him, so whenever he time-travels he arrives naked. As can be imagined, this leads to all manner of awkward situations.

The plot is really a romance between Henry and Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) who keep meeting at various times of their lives from when she is a young girl onwards. There are complicated chronological crossovers here, as sometimes a younger Henry meets an older Claire or vice versa, but it is usually possible to keep up with what's happening, given a bit of concentration. Despite the difficulties, their relationship heads towards marriage but that is far from the end of their problems.

The film hangs on the performance of the two principal characters and they both carry it off well. The basic plot has lots of potential for humour but there is very little of this, the emphasis being on the drama of their personal lives, and there is a growing sense of impending doom as the story approaches its climax.

Overall, I thought it was a good film. It is well-made and well-acted, and the unlike some time-travel stories (see my review of Déjà Vu for an example) the events seem more or less to make sense, given the improbable premise. Worth a look, but if you are emotionally inclined keep a tissue box to hand towards the end.
I must admit that when I ordered the DVD of Midnight in Paris I didn't realise that it was a fantasy; I merely picked up that it was supposed to be Woody Allen's best film in years, which along with the location (one of my favourite cities) was enough for me to want to see it.

It is essentially a romantic comedy which uses a fantasy element to emphasise the dilemma of successful scriptwriter and aspiring novelist Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), who is visiting Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams, again - not that I'm complaining!) and her parents. Pender is in love with Paris, and especially the era of the 1920s when it was alive with writers, artists and composers, but Inez has little sympathy with him. The rest of this review inevitably contains some mild spoilers so if you like everything to be a surprise, you'd better stop reading - but do watch the film!

Wandering alone through Paris at midnight, Pender is offered a lift by a group of people in an ancient car and taken to a party, where he gradually realises that he has shifted in time and is back in the 1920s. A few hours later, he finds himself back in the present day. He spends the next few nights returning to the 1920s each midnight, meeting many of his idols as well as Adriana (Marion Cotillard) which whom he gradually falls in love, while drifting further apart from Inez during the days.

It really would spoil the enjoyment of this film to reveal more of the plot, but suffice to say that it is neatly and amusingly scripted to make a point, is well acted, and has a rich, romantic texture which makes Paris the real star of the movie. I found it very enjoyable and can well imagine myself wanting to watch it again, which is a strong recommendation as it's something I rarely do.


Fred said...

I read the novel which is why I decided not to see the film. The novel was a selection for an SF Book discussion group I belong to.

My reaction was that the novel would have been more appropriate for a Romance Book discussion group as the novel focused solely on the woman who eventually marries the "time traveler."

Essentially the novel was about a woman whose man was away a lot, and their relationship which was complicated by his random appearances and ages. This would be sufficient for a short story, but not for a novel.

Just out of curiosity, does their child play a role in the film?

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes Fred, the child does feature towards the end.

The film may be a little more balanced in its coverage than the book, from the sound of things.