It's understandable that Henry DeTamble doesn't have time for his wife and never seems to live in the present; after all, he has an illness. At least in the weeper world in which he and his family and friends live, a Chicago lit to appear sad and lovely with rain-drenched streets and enormous fields with magical woods behind every townhouse, Chrono-Displacement is a real disorder that causes Henry to travel through time at various points of importance as if it seized by an epileptic fit. Henry gets a medical pass for all the rushing about.
But what excuse does the film have for telling its affecting, relatable story (based on the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger) with such little regard for establishing character or letting a moment play itself out? From Henry's first travel experience during a tragic moment at the age of 5, still-unproven director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (who long ago proved his worth with the stellar, Oscar-winning script for Ghost) hit upon the basic plot points in these people's lives as if they're still talking out beats in a pitch meeting. 'They meet, fall in love, get married, blah blah blah. Boom, big ending, sob sob sob, and roll the Lifehouse song.â?� It's almost as if they've been through it before and have grown anxious to get to the finish ' a common emotional nightmare explored in countless other time-travel films. The result is that Wife is as detached as its hero, constantly winking at the Oprah's Book Club members out there in the audience, prodding them toward a needlessly convoluted ending with morose self-satisfaction.
The truth is, a lot of it is great. Wife is the kind of film (or book or premise) that inspires discussion, one that's ripe with possibility and poignant symbolism ' amazingly, those touting the film as a metaphor for Army wives are actually right ' but that's a credit to Niffenegger's tale, not the film. Everything that Schwentke and Rubin bring to the table is a by-the-numbers detriment: the awful kid actors entrusted with parts that require them to be better than usual, the thudding attempts at slapstick and the leads, who seem to be running through a rehearsal.
Rachel McAdams, as Henry's long-suffering wife, is stripped of every ounce of the charm and mischief that make her fascinating in other roles. But she gets off easy. Eric Bana as Henry is such a tone-deaf choice that it's lucky he delivers in his other summer outings this year (Star Trek and Funny People) or his bad American accent and distant gaze in Wife could have put his career in jeopardy.
These characters deserve better. I have not personally read the book, I'll admit, but I did read (and loved) Rubin's script. The regard I hold for Henry and Clare DeTamble lies in the possibilities that seeped through mishandled celluloid and into my heart. Even with the bungles, some women openly wept in the theater and I can see why; Henry and Clare lead a tough life that they stick out together for better or worse, for when or where. Is it too early to call for a remake?