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THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE

Many women accuse their husbands or boyfriends of being emotionally unavailable at one time or another.  “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is feminine sci-fi that postulates what if he had a really good excuse?

Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) is a great guy, a girl’s dream.: sensitive, smart, caring and attentive but has one major flaw: he just disappears from time to time.  “Yeah, it’s a problem” his wife Claire (Rachel McAdams) says nonchalantly to a concerned friend at one point in the film.  The time traveling “problem” for Henry started when he was in a car accident with his mother.  Different things seem to trigger the jumps such as stress, alcohol or even television, though none of these really seem to make a difference.  Henry has no control over when he’ll jump nor does he have control as to where or when his destination will be.

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The screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin echoes his previous films, “My Life” and “Ghost”.  It’s a tender love story that deals with impossible what-ifs and impending loss.  It’s a well made film that never gets boring.  It’s rather clever and director Robert Schwentke (“Flightplan”) deftly handles Henry’s time jumping often with humor and frustration and never feels forced.

The problem is, there isn’t a compelling case for Henry and Claire to be the great loves of each others lives.  Claire first meets Henry when she is a little girl and he appears to her naked (when you time travel you inconveniently don’t take your clothes with you which leads to a lot of petty theft and embarrassing situations for Henry.)  He appears to her many times in this meadow, she learns to leave a set of clothes for him, and at her young age he becomes her ideal man.  But what does she become for him?  He says she makes him feel “safe” and never alone.  Well, sure, okay, but what do these two have in common?  What do they like to do on a Saturday night?  Do they laugh at the same jokes?  These questions are never dealt with any satisfaction.

Still, it’s a refreshingly original film and definitely worth checking out.

JOHN HUGHES (1950 to 2009)

John Hughes tragically died last week of heart attack in New York City while taking a morning walk, shocking the entertainment world and no doubt inspiring many John Hughes Film Festivals in living rooms across the globe.

He was the Barry Sanders of filmmaking, he left in his prime and everyone hoped he would make a come back (Breakfast Club 2, Ferris Bueller’s Next Day Off, or 32 Candles even.)  Okay, maybe more accurately we all hoped he would return like Terrence Malick after a 20 year hiatus like he never left off.  But John Hughes just wasn’t that kind of filmmaker, he said his piece and was happy to walk away.

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As a kid growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in the 1980’s, the films of John Hughes had a larger resonance for me and those I grew up with.  Hughes was a dedicated Chicagoan who was insistent on filming many of popular films in and around the Chicago area.  Great writers are great observers and Hughes was an exceptional observer of the human condition.

Most remember Hughes as the voice of the mid-80’s teenager.  To say his best films are about teenage angst is myopic and blatantly however ignores two his best works: the always popular at Thanksgiving holiday, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” and the tragically underrated “She’s Having A Baby”.)

No other filmmaker has had a run quite like Hughes.  Aside from the films he directed in rapid fire fashion (which I’ll get to), he wrote “Mr. Mom”, the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” films, “Pretty In Pink”, “Some Kind Of Wonderful”, “Home Alone”, “101 Dalmations”, and “The Great Outdoors”.  Those films alone are fairly impressive but from 1984 to 1989, Hughes wrote and directed SIX films that are truly memorable.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

“That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call them something else.” — Samantha’s Dad

The film that put Hughes on the map as the auteur of teen angst in the 1980’s.  “Sixteen Candles” follows a day in the life of girl whose family forgets her sixteenth birthday while planning her older sister’s wedding.  It’s everything we’d come to expect from Hughes’s films: funny, honest, and heartfelt.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.” — Andrew

This film was ranked the #1 high school movie of all time by Entertainment Weekly.  It works because, unlike many films, it’s simple.  Hughes understood that you could say a lot about high school by breaking it down into the core cliques: the brains, the athletes, the basket cases, the princesses, and the criminals.  Then take a representative of each one of those social classes and throw them in all day Saturday detention and you have the makings of a great ensemble film, and “The Breakfast Club” was one of the best.  It would never have worked if you had two brains or two jocks or two criminals.  The film teaches us that while we may all seem different on the outside, if you separate us from our cliques, we realize that in the human condition we are quite similar.  Hughes understood that and that’s why this film is accessible to teens and adults alike.

Weird Science (1985)

“It’s a really long story Chet. Gary and I were messing around with the computer Friday night. We decided to make a woman and we did and she went crazy and she messed up the whole house.” — Wyatt

Hughes supposedly wrote this film in 2 days and at times it feels like it.  But only a really talented director could make this preposterous plot work.  It’s a complete male fantasy: create the perfect woman with a model’s body and guy sensibilities.  And against all odds it completely works.  To me, it’s a film that suggests we learn to embrace imperfections in others.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.  — Ferris Bueller

This is my favorite of Hughes’s teen films because of it’s carpe diem ethic and unwavering optimism.  Plus, as a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I’ve taken more than a few days off in that wonderful city.

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In college I was asked to join a panel to discuss the film’s 10th anniversary and it’s impact.  At the time, and I think this still holds true, I observed that Cameron is really the main character of this story.  Cameron is the hero, the one who faces true adversity and inner demons coming out a changed, confident man at the end of the day.  It’s a story about friendship to me.

Also, this film was supposedly written in 6 days.  Combine that with the 2 days Hughes used to write “Weird Science” and he had a pretty productive week.

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (1987)

“You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you… but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like… I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get. “ — Del Griffith

The first film directed by Hughes that featured adults and adult situations and to me, he doesn’t miss a beat.  As I said before, this is now a cult classic that gets a lot of spins on DVD players around Thanksgiving.  It’s relatable in that we’ve all been stranded somewhere at some point while traveling and we just want to get home.  I’ve always seen this as a film about patience.

She’s Having A Baby (1988)

“And in the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, I was trusted more than I trusted, and I was loved more than I loved. And what I was looking for was not to be found but to be made.” — Jake Briggs

This is my favorite of Hughes’s films (edging out “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) mostly because it’s one that not a lot of people have seen.  I’m a fan of the hidden gem and this is one.  It’s a remarkable achievement in writing and filmmaking.  It’s one of Kevin Bacon’s best performances, one of Alec Baldwin’s earliest, and it’s hard to imagine Elizabeth McGovern didn’t skyrocket into the stratosphere off this film.  This was, in my opinion, the apex of Hughes’s directing talent.  Hop on YouTube and search for “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush, you’ll find the montage that sums up this film in the third act and if you don’t get moist in the eyes then you’re dead in the heart.

I left out two other films that Hughes directed, “Uncle Buck” (1989) and “Curly Sue” (1991).  Both are fine films, but they also showed Hughes was running out of gas a bit.  Perhaps he blurted out what he wanted to say too fast and could never recover, though we always hoped he would just one more time.

He was a unique writer and an underrated director (so few screenwriters understand film is a visual medium, but Hughes did.)  And his contributions to music (introducing America to British Pop for example) should not be underestimated.

The great thing about film is that it’s forever.  Even though John Hughes has left us, his films live on.  Every year a new generation of teenager will discover “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”, and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.  And every year a weary traveler will reminisce about how their journey home was in some way like “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”  And I hope expectant fathers discover “She’s Having A Baby”.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hughes.

Brett Deacon will twitter (twitter.com/brettdeacon) the punchline to Bender’s joke about the blonde woman, the poodle, and the two foot salami.  Maybe.

Comments:

One Response to “The Greatest Movie Blog Of All Time: The Time Traveler’s Wife & RIP Mr. Hughes”

  1. Colin Says:

    “And his contributions to music (introducing America to British Pop for example) should not be underestimated.”

    Uh, what?

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