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The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) -vs- Adam (2009)

Sherry CobenThe Smackdown

We celebrate a little side trip to the world of RomDram, light years (or is it baby steps?) away from the usual RomCom formula. There we meet two somewhat flawed potential mates presented as reasonable romantic possibilities and the slightly vanilla women who want them but ultimately find them wanting. Which film will best light your romantic fire and which imperfect guy will keep you stoked the longest? The socially awkward uber- gifted Grateful Guy or the disappearing reappearing Hunka Hunka Burning Romantic Love? Ah, the Boys of Summer 2009.

In This Corner

This somewhat faithful film adaptation of a very popular novel features Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as loving lifelong partners with a unique time traveling twist. Not to ruin any surprises, Henry first meets Claire when she is a child and revisits her throughout her life. She experiences time in the usual linear way; suffice it to say that Henry does not. The film takes this little peculiarity absolutely seriously, avoiding the comic possibilities, aiming too-squarely instead for sentiment and romance and occasionally hitting the target. (When it misses, the film is even more unintentional fun.) The leads are attractive, and their much-more-than-sexual connection convincing enough to get us over the disturbingly pedophiliac image of a time traveling naked man accosting a trusting child in her backyard. Almost.

In That Corner

“Adam” is more than a cinematic textbook illustrating the joys and perils of living alone in a big city with autism, but it does get some things remarkably right. Adam (A Mister Right Sundae With Asperger’s Syndrome On Top) misses some (not all) social cues and he does exhibit genius, intense interests,  rare focus, and a pronounced (occasionally pathological) preference for routine. The film boasts considerable charms. [BONUS: Smack Within A Smack! “Say Anything” (1989) provides an obvious (if far superior) story template. Here, Adam somewhat awkwardly stands in for adorable Lloyd Dobler, perennial poster boy for love objects deemed unworthy by the skeevy dads of overprotected daughters. Eighties icon Jon Cusack (Lloyd) proved his love and launched a million movie crushes, standing with his boombox blasting overhead to wake his beloved; here, Adam yells his girlfriend’s name in the middle of her street. Both girls’ doting fathers face similar legal wranglings and fortuitously timed jail sentences. It’s been twenty years since Lloyd and Diane defied parental objection, and filmmakers haven’t gotten the chemistry any more right since. Still, there’s something to be said for making autism sexy.

The Scorecard

Both films are perfectly dreadful/wonderful in entirely different (if entertaining) ways, and it’s going to be difficult coming up with a clear winner; however, it will be delightful deciding which guy would make the dreamier husband. The women on hand provide no contest whatsoever; Rose Byrne’s performance is whiney and borderline creepy while Rachel McAdams’ baby blues shine with love and mysteriously undying affection, unearned and bizarrely inexplicable as that devotion may be.

(A side note/rant: We’re up to our necks in foreigners playing Americans, something of a regular occurrence when it comes to romance on film. Either we Yanks don’t like our fantasies homegrown or perhaps the insistent inclusion of the British Commonwealth incrementally expands the international audience. Whatever the reasons, Aussie Rose Byrne fumbles a bit as an utterly unconvincing New York Jewess named Beth opposite always adorable Brit Hugh Dancy who plays the Asperger’s afflicted Adam with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed and only slightly bogus earnestness. Aussie hunk Eric Bana scores as genetic anomaly Time Traveler midwesterner Henry while as his wife, Canadian Rachel McAdams manages a reasonably convincing (if geographically vague) Chicago WASP-y rich girl. Like Gerard Butler in “The Ugly Truth ” and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road,” they all affect flat and frustratingly unspecific American accents, rendering them a tad generic, creepy and alien. I’m sure critical denizens of the UK experience similar difficulties with Renée Zellweger (Bridget Jones) and Michelle Pfeiffer among many others.

This accent stuff isn’t for sissies; one wonders why romantic leads can’t hail from their countries of origin and skip this pseudo-Middle Atlantic guff altogether.) Time travel rules change with all the discipline of wheat waving in a field. One wishes they’d leave the bonehead half-baked scientific explanations for some other movie in some other genre. Romantic fantasy doesn’t require science. I’m a frequent time traveler myself, logging many half-waking hours in the halls of my high school and reliving schoolyard humiliations, not to mention all the sleeping/dreaming visits to my childhood home. Explanations are unnecessary; we know that time travel occurs for us and we accept it in our beloved. Our own pasts and futures intrude seamlessly on our presents without any genetic mutations required. Cheesy special effects don’t feed the romantic fantasy much, and the weird pseudo-science begs for parody and out-loud laughter. (Check the baby’s clock genes, anyone?)

Adam fluctuates from clever jokester to Amelia Bedelia-addled simpleton. Idioms are foreign language to Adam when it suits the screenplay; and yes, while it’s true that Asperger’s syndrome symptoms do run a wide gamut, it strains credulity a bit when Adam appears hopelessly literal in one moment and Cary Grant debonair the next.

Still and all, Hugh Dancy is awfully (might I say irresistibly?) cute, and his Adam follows Beth’s boudoir-bound directions almost too well. That’s the good news. Hug me now. Take it slow. One grows dizzy imagining all the possibilities in such a malleable and eager trainee, and eventually, at least for selfish spoiled entitled Daddy’s girl Beth, this moonlit moonlighting teacher-student relationship hits a sort of dead-end snag. Adam requires a little too much of her attention and instruction, standing around waiting to be told where to go and what to do when he gets there. Beth makes her own selfish decisions for her own selfish reasons. As for me? Well, Adam could certainly hook up the HDTV and the stereo components, and he’d know his way around Radio Shack and the planetarium,but he might exhaust one’s patience. Just say no and walk away slowly, imagining Hugh Dancy using his real voice and his real charms to woo you in some other movie.

Eric Bana’s genetic mutant Henry, on the other hand, would seem the ideal husband, at least for me. He disappears for weeks at a time, occasionally reappearing as his younger incarnation, always naked, always romantic, rarely drunk. This dreamboat’s no workaholic. Oh sure, he steals a bit, and he tends to disappear at mildly inopportune moments, but what’s the downside of a guy who wins the lottery for you and fathers a daughter with awesome superpowers? He ages only to the perfect moment — his body hasn’t yet thickened or  failed, his temples only lightly dusted with grey, crow’s feet still nascent and adorable, and he looks hot even in borrowed (or stolen) clothes. He’s Eric Freaking Bana or crying out loud, and he lets you work in peace until all hours, you can leave the TV on all night, you rarely argue over money or much else, and you’ve known him practically forever. You don’t have to really wonder where he’s been when he’s gone because he’s mostly been with you. You can have a guilt-free extramarital furtive fumbling fling with his younger self and it isn’t even technically heating. Henry can come back to visit after he dies, and all he wants from you is a pile of clothing, a perfectly corny run across a field culminating in a lingering kiss and a hug. No zombie haunting for this guy, just a declaration that he still loves you and you still love him. Not a bad deal. It’s the ultimate romantic fantasy wherein the love of your life leaves you mostly, blissfully, alone.

Awesome! (Have I said too much?)

The Decision

So here’s the choice: A man who doesn’t totally understand women or anything else. Or a man who leaves and comes back unannounced from time to time.

What else is new? Gimme one for right now and the other for the road. Am I creeping you out yet?

As for the films, I’m just so grateful to be out off my usual RomCom beat and away from a world filled with makeover montages and cute falling down. A little death, magic and Psych 101 goes down easy after the summer I’ve had.

“Adam” grades arrive on the high side of a critical bell curve, the same one that wins “Rain Man” and “My Left Foot” and “Shine” and countless others of this earnest genre endless awards. Critics (and audiences) apparently love movies featuring handicaps of all kinds. This approbation proves somehow ennobling and righteous for the viewer; a couple of hours spent in the dark feels selfless, educational, and humanitarian. The road to overwriting is paved with good intentions, but “important” subject matter doesn’t always elevate sub-par moviemaking and questionable casting. Some of my best friends are autistic…and special ed teachers. That said, “Adam” was a little overcooked for my taste. Still, had the radiant Rachel McAdams played the prickly role of Beth, the film would win this race by a mile. I preferred the goofy “Time Traveler’s Wife” and can’t wait to watch it again on DVD with my friends, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style. That will be a total hoot. Or maybe I just want that house.

Don’t judge me.

About Sherry Coben 77 Articles
A comedy writer who created the 1980s hit show Kate & Allie, Sherry Coben — tired of malingering in development hell — has enjoyed coaching a high school ComedySportz team in SoCal, making a no-budget, high-ambition webisode series, and biting the hand that feeds her.

5 Comments on The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) -vs- Adam (2009)

  1. I’m reminded of the Jim Gaffigan joke- “You know what I liked about the movie? No reading.” I haven’t seen either, so my most recent experience is Watchmen. I feel the same way – a loving homage to the book. Doesn’t replace it, but doesn’t ruin it. Just a different way to experience it.

  2. Thanks, Rodney. “Love The Beast” was already on my Netflix queue just in case it never gets here…saw the trailer and loved it.
    As far as crushing on EB a little, I admit everything; blame it on “The Castle.”
    And believe me, should you venture out to a theater for TTTW, your eyes will be rolling plenty. It’s still a hot mess. Like I said, choosing a Smackdown winner between these two was tough. But hey, we knew the job was dangerous when we took it.

  3. Sherry, do I detect a slight crush on our British Commonwealth export in TTTW? If so, yes, you’ve said too much! 😉 I’d like your thoughts on a little indie-film Bana made last year about his car, called Love The Beast. It’s a chick-friendly examination of one man’s passion for his pride and joy…. his car.
    Great review as usual, and while I rolled my eyes at the trailer to TTTW I think now I should do the right thing and at least give it a shot.

  4. We all saw an early screening of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” over a year ago. We had assumed it was just an editing mess, but then we heard about the “Star Trek” haircut explanation. I wonder if that was the truth or the cover? In any case, I kinda want to see it again, because I enjoyed the book, and would like to see how they changed it.

  5. “Adam fluctuates from clever jokester to Amelia Bedelia-addled simpleton.”
    Too true. There was the one part where he seemed confused by the sentence, “When we were together, he slept with other women.” He picks up on the “sleeps with” just fine, as anyone would, because idiomatic expressions aren’t inherent knowledge in anyone–they are learned, so that even someone who might have a condition that prevents him from picking up on nonverbal social cues and such would be able to understand–but she then has to explain “together in the relationship, not together in the same room,” or something like that.
    Another good smack, Sherry. Perhaps I will rent TTW when it’s on DVD, but mostly your review made me want to rewatch “Say Anything.”

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