The suspense! But first comes the denial, the futile attempts to resist the movie's unlikely pleasures. As the film jumps ahead from year to year, we mainly follow Henry the librarian (Eric Bana) as he first meets a college-aged Clare (McAdams), who is destined to marry him from the moment she first meets a time-traveled version of him in a field when she’s a little girl. (No, it doesn't make sense, but go with it.) From there, the standard star-crossed love stuff takes over, one major eye-roll at a time.
The metaphysical inanity of the story is obvious from the start. For instance, Henry can travel to the past but, for some vague reason, can’t change it, which diffuses any real exploration of what his condition means. Once we move past that, though, The Time Traveler’s Wife begins to weather down that cynicism, that desire for the film to be more rich and curious and complex. It is what it is, and improbably, that’s plenty: a fastidiously old-fashioned love story with sloppy, soppy existential ideas and more than enough droll narrative tricks to see it through to the end.
The movie is directed by Robert Schwentke (from the popular novel by Audrey Niffenegger) with a classic fairy-tale aesthetic. Slow fades and soft focus run the show, and the central couple gets to spend an outrageous amount of time staring into each other’s eyes. But the sentimentalism never becomes as intolerable as we expect, even in the final scene that takes place in the same field where Clare first met Henry, which should feel exploitative and cheap but ends up bizarrely sublime.
The same could be said for the movie, which whisks past in an effortless breeze of old Hollywood conceit. This beguiling romantic fantasy may not be very profound or even very honest, but rarely has that seemed so beside the point.