Vantage point

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review of The Time Traveler's Wife

I usually read 3-4 books at a time, switching between them, returning to each one after a few days, usually able to pick up the story where I left it. But Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, is a skillfully crafted and well-told story that demanded reading at one go. It demanded devoted attention, because if left midway for a few days, it would be almost impossible to get back into the narrative, a narrative that jumps all over time and keeps revealing twists frequently. I finished the book over a weekend, and enjoyed it.

The book, long-ish and complicated as it is, offers itself to be made into a very good movie, if handled by a skillful screenplay writer and director. But watching the movie, it is obvious that Bruce Joel Rubin and Robert Schwentke have respectively failed miserable at their jobs. The movie is just a confused meandering snooze-fest that makes you wish you could travel through time to its end.

What makes the movie even more disappointing is that the casting for lead roles is perfect. Eric Bana is the quintessential Henry, portraying even relatively minor 5-10 year differences in the character's age perfectly. In the book, Henry at 28 is very different from Henry at 36 and then Henry at 43, and Bana manages that difficult task splendidly. Rachel McAdams is also the best possible Clare, not only in appearance, but also in attitude and temperament. The two exemplary performances have been let down by a screenplay that seems to have almost worked hard to consciously remove any layers and nuances that the book had, and leave us with a stew of a film that seems simultaneously rushed and slow.

The movie also bizarrely leaves out many elements of the plot that made the book so complexly riveting. For instance, Gomez is a boisterous, generous, yet selfish character, brilliantly written, and torn between his friendship for Henry and his feelings for Clare. But in the movie, Ron Livingston is wasted playing a Gomez who is a feeble shadow os what he could have been.

The movie also botches up royally some pivotal moments by making absolutely unnecessary changes to them vis-a-vis the book. The scene when Clare tells Henry that she has gotten pregnant by him, even after he got a vasectomy is touching as well as hilarious in the book. In the movie, the bizarre changes make it fall flat. Similarly, the scene of Henry's accident when riding in a car with his mom offered many possibilities. Instead there is a big change made that makes it seem almost farcical, if not paradoxical, and the rest of it is cut out or referred to in subsequent conversations. The worst botch-up was with the scene where the two Alba's are playing in the backyard, and the future Alba reveals something important.... again, mindless changes have rendered the scene soap-opera-esque.

And of course the end, or should I say the end after the end, so sweet, poignant and touching in the book, has been changed to something rubbish that not only fails to strike a cord, but also makes a big big logical error.

My verdict - give the movie a miss even if it is playing on TV. Read the book instead.

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